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In recent years Arvo Pärt has written some significant works for larger forces mostly commissioned by major institutions for celebratory occasions. Most impressive is the dramatic 25-minute In Principio (2003) for mixed choir and symphony orchestra which sets to music the famous opening of St John’s gospel, “In principio erat Verbum”. In its five movements, “tintinnabuli” diatonicism is contrasted with sophisticated harmonic procedures, massive brass chords are juxtaposed with almost stoic calm in the choir. The purely orchestral La Sindone (The holy shroud), a highly expressive piece which mirrors the shroud’s symbolic shine-through effects in delicate string textures, was premièred in Turin at the 2006 Winter Olympics whereas Caecilia, vergine romana for mixed choir and orchestra was a commission for Rome’s jubilee in 2000. Da pacem Domine, one of Pärt’s most serenely beautiful pieces, responded in a very subtle way to the 2004 terror attacks in Madrid’s Atocha station. The piece, heard a cappella on the 2005 ECM release Lamentate, appears in an even more beautiful version for choir and strings. Two instrumental compositions complete the CD: the rhythmically energetic Mein Weg and Für Lennart in memoriam, a still piece in homage to late Estonian president Lennart Georg Meri.
The exemplary interpretations, displaying great clarity and sensitivity, by some of the best Pärt experts (among them noted conductor Tõnu Kaljuste, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir - which he directed from its foundation in 1981 until 2001 - and the country’s leading orchestra, the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra) were recorded in Estonia with the assistance of the composer and will surely be one of the strongest 2009 releases on ECM.
“Recent compositions, while not relinquishing the ethereal beauty we associate with Pärt, have seemed less confident in their serenity… A sense of anxiety pervades the oldest piece… Mein Weg… and sometimes, as with In Principio and La Sindone, there are episodes of almost bruising physicality which is a little shocking in the context of Pärt's mature music.”
“These recent works demonstrate a certain expansion in Pärt's horizons. They still dwell in the niche of lapidary minimalism, but while they keep faith with his trademark 'tintinnabulatory' style, they now use it with flexibility and flow. The dramatic directness of In principio, at 20 minutes the longest work on this CD, has one thinking of Janácek or even the Icelander Jón Leifs, not to speak of its candidly neo- Bachian progressions; exhilaration emanates from this score, along with piety and lamentation. Of the other works for chorus and orchestra, Cecilia, vergine romana commemorates in more restrained terms the martyrdom of the third-century Roman noblewoman adopted 1200 years later as the patron saint of music, while the five-minute Da pacem Domine is a statuesque tribute to the victims of the 2004 Madrid terrorist bombings. La Sindone ('The Shroud'), for trumpet, trombone, four percussionists and strings, leaves more room for listeners to find their own symbolic meaning in its frequent silences. Mein Weg ('My Path'), for 14 strings and percussion, is nothing to do with autobiography but a response to an extract from the French-Jewish poet Edmond Jabès's Livre des questions concerning the vissicitudes of life, and the disc ends with an austere memorial to Lennart Meri, president of Estonia from 1992 to 2001. Superbly performed and recorded”
“Superbly performed and recorded, this CD is self-recommending to anyone interested in Pärt's recent work and his tentative ways forward from doctrinaire schematicisim.”
19th April 2009
“Tonu Kaljuste conducts lustrous singing and playing of these and three shorter works, which include a moving response to the Madrid bombings.”
17th April 2009
“The little string elegy Für Lennart in Memoriam, composed for the funeral of the Estonian president in 2006, is the most convincing piece here: eloquent in a simple, undemonstrative way, nostalgic without being mawkish, touching without being sentimental.”
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.