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Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)
Symphony No. 1 (Polyphonic) (1964) (Kanons [9:14]; Prelude and Fugue [7:26])
Collage on the Theme B-A-C-H (1964): (Toccata [2:55]; Saraband [3:29]; Ricercar [1:30])
Pro et Contra, concerto for cello and orchestra (1966) (Maestoso; Largo; Allegro [8:30])
Tabula Rasa, concerto for two violins, prepared piano and string orchestra (1977) (Ludus [10:09]; Silentium [18:18])
Congress Orchestra/Vladimir Norits (Symphony, Collage on the Theme B-A-C-H, Pro et Contra), Paolo Gatto (Tabula Rasa), Vadim Messerman (cello), Crtomir Siskovich and Victor Kuleshov (violins), Peter Laul (piano)
rec. Petersburg Recording Studio, 1995. DDD

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This release from Manchester Classical Gallery is a collection of works by Arvo Pärt, dating from the early 1960s to mid 1970s. This was a time when Pärt experimented a great deal in form, structure and tonality, before he settled into the style with which we are now familiar, of tintinabulus and a mediaeval/renaissance polyphony, spirituality and beauty. Although one hears premature hints of these in the four works (particularly Tabula Rasa), one also senses up a great deal of influence of composers such as Schoenberg.

The disc opens with his First Symphony. Written in 1964, it includes elements of 12-tone serialism and has a polyphonic structure. The Congress Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Norits, give an exciting and dramatic performance, although the work itself will come as quite a shock to those used to his later, religious and more orthodox style. It is gritty stuff, discordant, hard on the ear, quite relentless, and almost disjointed. One feels that Pärt had not found his voice at this stage.

The Collage on the Theme B-A-C-H has a minimalist first movement, while the second movement presents a gorgeous saraband from Bach, which is then interspersed with scrunched-up, from-your-very-worst nightmares Bach distortions. The finale, also discordant, movement is based on the B-A-C-H motif.

The Cello Concerto Pro et contra was dedicated to Rostropovich, and is described as a “kaleidoscope of contrasts”. It contains some brilliant playing from the Congress Orchestra, especially the percussion, and from soloist Vadim Messerman.

Tabula Rasa – a concerto for two violins, prepared piano and string orchestra – came as a tremendous relief to me – balm after the rather ear-shattered, mind-numbing previous works. It is a well-paced rendition – the Congress Orchestra, this time under the baton of Paolo Gatto, are not afraid to keep the pauses long. The second movement, Silentium, has a wonderful sense of spaciousness, and the work is given a radiant performance.

All these works are extremely well-played, but to those who are new to Pärt or just familiar with his later music I should issue a warning – these are a far cry from those later luminescent, spiritual works of art!

Em Marshall




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