This fourth volume in the Kristjan Järvi Sound Project series is a tribute to his close friend and countryman composer Arvo Pärt, one of the most emblematic figures in contemporary music, to mark the celebration of his 80th birthday. Constantly inspired by pioneering, thrilling and exhilarating ideas, American-Estonian conductor Kristjan Järvi has gathered works spanning 40 years of Pärt’s compositions, as a culmination of of years of collaboration, musical exploration and spiritual connection.
To celebrate Arvo Part's 80th birthday, Gimell presents a new recording of some of the Estonian composer's finest a cappella choral works. This is the first album of contemporary music from The Tallis Scholars since their famous 1984 recording of works by John Tavener. The program here includes several major works including the Magnificat, Sieben Magnificat-Antiphonen, Triodion and I Am the True Vine. The album's title refers to the compositional style Part developed in the 1970s and now employs in most of his works. This simple style was influenced by the composer's mystical experiences with sacred chant. Tintinnabuli works often have a slow and meditative tempo and a minimalist approach to both notation and performance.
Pärt's 1987 release, Arbos, shows the composer working within his medium, bringing forth a body of music sacred in sound and message and presenting new compositional techniques. Utilizing a limited palette of tones, arranged in repeating patterns, these works are often (understandably) categorized with the works of Glass, Reich, and Riley. The tonal palette is often borrowed from European medieval styles, and this, in conjunction with the liturgical subject matter, make these new compositions feel centuries old.
As the title and subtitle imply, this is a kind of greatest-hits album, with music selected by ECM label producer Manfred Eicher from the 12 albums on the label devoted to the music of Arvo Pärt. Pärt's music is so malleable that people tend to make their own versions of it rather than collect it, but if you wanted an anthology as a starter box, this would be the one to choose. Eicher has worked closely with Pärt since the 1980s, and he has indeed made a sensible "sequence" out of works that do not have a lot of contrast among them.
With Litany, Estonian composer Arvo Pärt created one of his most stirring works: a nearly 23-minute-long composition for orchestra and vocal ensemble based on the 24 prayers of St. John Chrysostom (one for each hour of the day). Commissioned for the 25th Oregon Bach Festival, the composition is both memorable and timeless. It finds influences in everything from chant to the repetition of modern minimalism. Play it loudly and the striking vocals of the Hilliard Ensemble simply soar against the strings of the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra. The orchestral Trisagion harkens toward Litany's mood swings and impact, but–sans voice–lacks the mysticism. One of Pärt's best, and as sacred as modern compositions come.
Arvo Part's Kanon Pokajanen is a work of starkly radiant beauty, a deeply felt plea for forgiveness so resonant it seems to bear its own expiatory power. The piece is a choral setting of the Russian Orthodox Church's canon of repentance, believed to have been composed by St. Andrew of Crete sometime in the late seventh century. Part had experimented with the canon in earlier works, but when the Cologne Cathedral commissioned him to compose a choral piece for its 750th anniversary, he took the opportunity to immerse himself in it completely. Over two years of intense quality time with the work, Part produced an 80-minute choral setting of the entire canon that mines each word of the original Church Slavonic (a language used exclusively in ecclesiastical texts) for its maximum musicality and meaning.
Paul Hillier, best known for his recordings of early music, brings that sense of urgency and simple piety to the delicate religious music of Arvo Part. This is music which combines gentleness with real force, and the intelligent singing, and capacity to make moments of silence tell as much as grand effects, is entirely admirable.
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”.