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.
Five of the discs on this six-CD set are previously released Naxos recordings of a broad variety of works by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. The set offers a generous sampling of works spanning the composer's career, from his polystylistic Collage über BACH (1964) for orchestra to his 2001 Nunc dimittis for a cappella chorus.
The disc contains moving choral music written by two of the most significant composers of the 20th century. At its world premiere in 1986, Alfred Schnittke's Concerto for Chorus was said to be revolutionary, whilst Arvo Pärt remains one of the most popular composers of the present day.
Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voices, like the Hilliard Ensemble with whom he was associated before settling in America, have given the music of Arvo Part a prominent place in their repertoire. Hillier has also written a book on Part – from which his notes accompanying this CD are mostly drawn (The Music of Arvo Part; OUP: 1997) – and in the collective interview run in last September’s issue (page 14) he described his first encounter with several of Part’s scores, “Something leapt out at me: this was the kind of music I had been waiting to perform”.
This is serial composition, or variation. The first 8 tracks are the same work in 8 very different styles. See if you even notice it is the same piece. Different instruments, and arpeggios. I like it all. The first and the 8 Cellos version are perhaps my favorites, if you do not want them all. Also the 2nd track, a hard almost scratchy arpeggio version. I am getting into Arvo Part a little more now, though this is more or less his "Bolero"; a signature piece that builds on a rather simple, repeating theme, which is not like anything else by him- or anyone else. Well, you have to love a Soviet era composer who when the authorities began to annoy him, rather than cower or placate them with what they asked for, became more religious and started a series of variations (according to the liner notes, 2 taboos they warned him about). Gulag or bust? Well he's still around.
The title of ECM's release of works by three composers born in the former Soviet Union perfectly captures the mood of the CD – it is truly mysterious. Although more than half a century separates the first of these pieces from the most recent, they share a sense of otherness that defies easy explanation. The pieces are not so much mysterious in the sense of being eerie (although there are several moments that might raise the hairs on the back of your neck if you were listening alone in the dark); they are unsettling because they raise more questions than they answer.
The second ECM New Series album to fully showcase pure-toned Estonian vocal group Vox Clamantis and its artistic director/conductor Jaan-Eik Tulve is devoted to compositions by their great countryman, Arvo Pärt – whose music has been the most performed globally of any living composer over the past five years. This album – titled The Deer’s Cry after its first track, an incantatory work for a cappella mixed choir – is also the latest in an illustrious line of ECM New Series releases to feature Pärt’s compositions, the very music that inspired Manfred Eicher to establish the New Series imprint in 1984.