Pärt: Miserere / Arman, Oesterreichisches ensemble fur neue musik
The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, born in 1935, has succeeded in bringing sacred music back to a broader audience, and away from the confines of the church service, more than almost any other contemporary composer. The meditative character of his works, and his return to the simplest and most basic musical forms, convey moments of intense spirituality. Before his emigration from the Soviet Union, Pärt had already invented what he termed the tintinnabuli style of composition. He produced an early and important example of this expressive style in 1977 with his “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten”, scored for string orchestra and bell. It is also a key feature of the choral and instrumental works presented by BR-KLASSIK on this new album: five works for choir as well as two for instrumental ensemble, covering all of the composer’s creative epochs between 1986 and 2019. Alongside shorter a cappella choral works such as “Tribute to Caesar” (1997), “Which Was the Son of...” (2000), “The Deer's Cry” (2007) and “Ja ma kuulsin hääle... (And I heard a voice)” (2017), the highlight of this album – almost 30 minutes in length and with its absolutely spectacular sound effects – is the “Miserere” for soli, mixed voices, ensemble and organ (1989/1992). Ever since its premiere in 1989 in Rouen, France, and the recording by the Hilliard Ensemble under Paul Hillier, this is the first time a professional choir has dared undertake a production of this masterful composition – a work conveying the growth, flourishing and transience of human existence in sound. Arvo Pärt had never heard some of these pieces sung by a full choir before - “always only by a small ensemble”. The impressive programme is rounded off by two instrumental works: “Festina lente” (1986/1990) for string orchestra and harp, and “Sequentia” (2014/2019) for violin, percussion and string orchestra.
No, of course we don’t need another recording of choral music by Arvo Pärt. Or so one might have thought: hearing this particular album practically guarantees a change of mind in this respect. The first thing to strike the listener is the creamily rich choral sound, which, while absolutely not lacking in precision, adds an extra dimension in works such as the opening "Which was the son of …" that some other outstanding ensembles, even when seasoned interpreters of the composer’s work, cannot match.
Neither is this all. Interspersed between the choral pieces are instrumental works all too easily overlooked: the impact of Sequentia and Festina lente in this context is quite different from that made when heard as part of a purely instrumental sequence, and the wonderful resonance of the orchestra’s sound is captured magnificently here. That most of these performances were recorded in the circumstances of the current pandemic seems to lend them an increased relevance and urgency.
But the centre of the recording is the Miserere. There is of course the classic recording by the Hilliard Ensemble, but any admirer of the work will be keen to have this new version, so immediate is its impact and so impressive its sonic depth.
I have but one complaint about this recording: it is staggeringly underdocumented. The booklet has plenty of room for information about the pieces themselves, and performances of such high quality as these I would have thought guaranteed to arouse the listener’s curiosity.
Catalog Number: BRK900527
Number of Discs: 1