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Arvo PÄRT (b.1935)
Triodion (1998) [13:36]
Tribute to Caesar (1997) [5:33]
Nunc dimittis (2001) [6:16]
Ode VII (Memento) from Kanon Pokajanen (1994) [7:37]
I Am the True Vine (1996) [7:37]
The Woman with the Alabaster Box (1997) [5:26]
Dopo la vittoria (1996/1998) [10:39]
Bogoróditse Djévo (Mother of God and Virgin) (1990) [1:28]
Elora Festival Singers / Noel Edison
rec. 19-21 May, 2006, St John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. DDD
NAXOS 8.570239 [57:35]
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Conversations with others have made me realise that I wasn’t alone in being slow to appreciate either the depth or the range of Pärt’s work. Early exposure to his more ‘minimalist’ works, for which I had only a relatively limited appetite, led me to a rather lazy lack of attention to his work of the last fifteen years, in which much has changed. I am delighted to welcome this well sung and well recorded anthology of works for unaccompanied choir, all written between 1990 and 2001. It confirms just how fine Pärt’s work of this period is, and perhaps it will – especially at the Naxos price – attract new listeners to Pärt’s music.
Triodion was commissioned by Lancing College in Sussex in celebration of its 150th year – Benjamin Britten having written St. Nicholas for the 100th year of the school. Pärt sets three prayers from the Orthodox Prayer book, the last of them a plea for St. Nicholas’s intercession: “O Holy Saint Nicholas, Pray unto God for us” (the full name of Lancing being the ‘College of St. Mary and St. Nicholas). Triodion is one of the fruits of Pärt’s appropriation of the musical language of early Renaissance choral music, beautifully evocative of the moods of his text and, while harmonically quite spare, far from merely minimalist.
Elsewhere on the disc, The Woman with the Alabaster Box – setting the famous story from Chapter 26 of St. Matthew’s Gospel – has a richness of texture and vivacity of tone which will come as a surprise to those who know only Pärt’s earlier work. To listen to the setting of the Nunc dimittis alongside Ode VII from the substantial composition Kanon Pokajanen is to realise just how various Pärt’s music has become in recent years. The Nunc dimittis is radiant and luminous, the transition to the major at “lumen ad revelationem” a moment of considerable beauty; Ode VII, on the other hand, is altogether darker and penitential, shot through with a deeply troubled sense of human sinfulness.
Dopo la vittoria was commissioned by the City of Milan, to honour the 1600th anniversary of the birth of St. Ambrose, a figure central to the early history of the church in that city. There is rather more word-painting here than one expects from Pärt, a more precise musical responsiveness to verbal detail than is generally characteristic of his music. In other respects the work is quintessential Pärt, slowly shifting harmonic rhythmic patterns used to beautiful effect. The disc closes with Bogoróditse Djévo,  more forcefully emotional than is sometimes the case with Pärt, more vigorous and energetic too.
So, a fascinating picture of the later developments in Pärt’s choral writing – and he is surely one of or age’s great masters in the composition of music for unaccompanied choir – illustrative of his increased range, and of the continuing precision of his work. There are other recordings of some of these pieces – such as those by Polyphony on Hyperion (CDA 67375); but the Elora Festival Singers stand up to such comparisons very well, and confirm the excellent impression made by the earlier Naxos recording of the Berliner Messe and other pieces (Naxos 8.557299 & 6.110052 - see review).
Glyn Pursglove



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