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Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)
In principio (2003)a [19:34]
La Sindone (2005)b [15:44]
Cecilia, vergine romana (2000, rev. 2002)c [16:30]
Da pacem Domine (2004, rev. 2007)d [4:53]
Mein Weg (1989, rev. 2000)d [6:17]
Für Lennart in memoriam (2006)d [7:23]
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Estonian National Symphony Orchestraabc; Tallinn Chamber Orchestrad/Tōnu Kaljuste
rec. Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn, June 2008abc, Niguliste Church, Tallinn, May 2007d .
Words and translations included
ECM NEW SERIES 2050 (4766990) [71:02]
Experience Classicsonline

The last ten years have seen Pärt’s music slacken its adherence to “Holy Minimalism”. This trend was already apparent in Como cierva sedienta (1998) and Orient & Occident (2000). It is also much in evidence in the works on these fairly recent works composed between 2000 and 2006.

In principio for chorus and orchestra sets words from John 1: 1-14 laid-out into five separate sections of which the central one is the most developed. The first section is rather different from what one might have come to expect from Pärt. It is mostly a powerfully declamatory prelude to the entire work with many unusually dramatic orchestral gestures. The second movement (vv.6-8) is mainly homophonic. The central section (vv.9-11) is rather unusual in that it is one of the rare instances of Pärt’s repeating the text. He actually does so three times, which is quite remarkable as if to stress the meaning of these words that he absolutely wants to convey to the listeners. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” The fourth section is a movement in slow and march-like tempo. The final movement rounds-off the work by mirroring the opening section, albeit in a less dramatic way.

La Sindone is scored for small orchestral forces: strings and percussion with a trumpet and a trombone mainly reserved for the final stages. “La Sindone” or the so-called Christ’s shroud has long been located in Turin Cathedral. In the meantime there has been a lot of controversy about it, but this has absolutely no relevance to Pärt’s work. After the short emotionally charged introduction, the music begins from scraps with a number of fragments that eventually congeal into a long melody. The final section opens with chords in the strings. These lead to the assertive entry of the two brass instruments that bring the work to a powerful resonant climax,. This is followed by a peaceful final chord in the strings.

The words for Cecilia, vergine romana are drawn from the Latin Breviarum Romanum of Graz Seminary. These words were read during the nocturnal canonic hour for the feast of St. Cecilia. They tell of St. Cecilia’s martyrdom because of her Christian beliefs. Her husband Valerian converted to Christian faith and so did the latter’s brother. They, too, were martyred. The Roman prefect ordered Cecilia to be burned and later beheaded. Eventually her relics were laid to rest in the Roman church which now bears her name. The narrative is at first rather neutral. Only later, when coming to the murder of the male protagonists, does the music reach some sort of climax preceding the final section which the present annotator describes as Cecilia’s via dolorosa. This is by far the most gripping and beautiful section of a sincere work that I personally find a bit uneven. Still it is worth more than the occasional hearing.

Da pacem Domine was written at the request of Jordi Savall and is dedicated to the victims of the Madrid bombings on 11 March 2004. It has been performed every year in Spain to commemorate the victims of these terrorist attacks. This short work exists in several different versions including this one for choir and strings made in 2007.

The last two items are purely instrumental pieces for string orchestra. Mein Weg (“My Path” or “My Way”) was originally composed for organ in 1989. Pärt later arranged it for strings and percussion. That is what we have here. It is a quite nice short piece already some way from the so-called “Holy Minimalism” often attached to Pärt’s music. Für Lennart in memoriam, the most recent work here, had a curious genesis, to say the least. It was commissioned by Lennart Meri, the president of Estonia from 1992 to 2001, shortly before his death for use at his funeral service. This is a deeply felt elegy and quite beautiful in its own right, and certainly one that shows how Pärt’s music has evolved over the last years. There is a real sense of forward moving rather than of repetition.

A quick look at the names of the performers is enough to make clear that these performances, recorded in the composer’s presence, have a real ring of authenticity as well as displaying commitment and dedication to Pärt’s music. The recording is excellent and the lavishly illustrated booklet is informative.

This superb release is yet another example of ECM’s tireless and indefatigable championing of Pärt’s music. Long may it continue!

Hubert Culot 


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