Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s four symphonies tell the story of his musical life. It’s a tale bookended by the skittish and uncompromising Symphony No. 1, written while he was a student in 1963, and the Fourth from 2008—a beautifully sculpted masterpiece in his own “tintinnabuli” style in which textures rise, fall, and repeat like pealing bells. Much more than fine recordings of fascinating works, these are ideal performances directed by one of Pärt’s most trusted conductors, compatriot Tõnu Kaljuste. Listen out for the beautiful oases amid the noise in the final movement of Symphony No. 2 and the chant-infused Symphony No. 3, containing moments of pure beauty.
Of four living composers here, one is less well known. Like the Borusan Quartet itself, Hasan Uçarsu (born 1965) is Turkish. His String Quartet No 2 “The Untold” consists of two short, pensive outer movements – called epilogue and prologue – and two questing, energetic central movements full of Anatolian folk inspiration. Arvo Pärt’s Summa is a string version of a meditative vocal piece from 1977. Pēteris Vasks, like Pärt, found his own spiritual voice within or despite the restrictive Soviet aesthetic, as witnessed in his poignant String Quartet No 4. Philip Glass, in contrast, wrote his Quartet No 2, robustly minimalist, as stage music for an adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s novel Company. A fascinating, engagingly played quartet of quartets.
This disc of music by Arvo Pärt offers a generous representative sampling of his orchestral and chamber works from early in his holy minimalist (or, as he preferred, tintinnabuli) phase, mostly from the late 1970s but some as late as 1990. The pieces include some of his most popular works, notably Fratres (which exists in nearly a dozen incarnations), Spiegel in Spiegel (of which there are nearly half as many versions), Summa, and Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten.
Arvo Pärt: A Portrait, a collection of performances by Canadian violinist Angèle Dubeau and her string ensemble La Pietà, is easily among the finest recordings devoted to Pärt's instrumental music. It includes his best-known works for strings, with the exception of Fratres, in performances of exceptional purity that get at the heart of his uniquely simple, chaste, and directly communicative music.
Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is best known for the mystical minimalist style he developed in the late 1970s. While pivotal works from this period are included here, this disc's special value is the glimpse it gives of where Pärt was coming from before he simplified his style. His Symphony no. 3 from 1971 contains many premonitions of the austere, quasi-religious music to come: unaccompanied Gregorian chant-like melodies, for example, and the punctuation of bells. But the Symphony also has a wider range of expression, color and dramatic contrasts, sharing a seriousness of purpose with Pärt's later works, but in a manner more akin to Shostakovich.