CD Reviews - 1990s

In this page you can browse a selection of CDs with works by Arvo Pärt that were released in the 1990s, with catalogue details and reviews. CDs are listed by release date, the most recent releases appearing first.

22 albums listed.


ALINA

25 October 1999 | ECM Records 449958

Vladimir Spivakov (violin) - Sergej Bezrodny (piano) - Alexander Malter (piano) - Dietmar Schwalke (cello)
Für Alina - Spiegel im Spiegel
© BBC Music Magazine — David Kettle
An Arvo Pärt "concept album" had to happen sooner or later, I suppose, but this new ECM release at least does it with good taste and manages to raise some interesting issues about the composer's pared-down, transparent music. On it, three performances of his 1978 Spiegel im Spiegel —the first and third for violin and piano, the second for cello and piano— are separated by two sections from pianist Alexander Malter's "several-hour" improvisation on Pärt's tiny 1976 piano piece Für Alina in an overall structure whose self-referentiality seems an act of composition in itself. But what saves the disc from self-indulgence are the immaculate performances: Vladimir Spivakov, particularly, is breathtaking in his two performances of Spiegel im Spiegel, his control of tone and carefully considered use of vibrato adding greatly to the poignancy of the music. Dietmar Schwalke and Alexander Malter, however, take the piece at a rather faster tempo, unavoidably changing the character of the music utterly. Malter's Für Alina improvisations raise several questions without providing satisfactory answers —do we ever hear the piece in its original form? does this matter? how do we reconcile these free improvisations with Pärt's strict control of form?— but the ringing tones of his crystal-clear performance, and especially the fading resonances of his chiming notes, are often overwhelmingly beautiful.

DE PROFUNDIS

1 October 1999 | Harmonia Mundi France 907182

Theatre of Voices - Paul Hillier (conductor)
And one of the Pharisees - Cantate Domino - De profundis - Magnificat - Missa syllabica - Sieben Magnificat-Antiphonen - Solfeggio, Summa - The Beatitudes
Review coming soon ...

TABULA RASA - SYMPHONY NO. 3

1 October 1999 | Naxos 8554591

Ulster Orchestra - Takuo Yuasa (conductor) - Leslie Hatfield (violin) - Rebecca Hirsch (violin)
Collage über B-A-C-H - Symphony No. 3 - Tabula rasa
© Music and Vision (01/2004) — Rex Harley
Let it be said at the outset that any criticisms I have of this CD have nothing to do with performance or, for that matter, the quality of the recording. My reservations relate solely to the programming and therefore, inevitably to the intrinsic worth of the pieces on offer.
None of which applies to the opening work, Pärt's famous Tabula Rasa, written back in the late seventies for violinists Gidon Kramer and Tatiana Grindenko. The original recording, on ECM, is still arguably the best, although, listening to it again I find myself increasingly irritated by the occasional coughs and splutters of the audience: the piece was recorded live for German Radio. This is less noticeable during the first movement, Ludus, but ironically obvious during the second, Silencium.
The violinists in this recording —Leslie Hatfield and Rebecca Hirsch— are entirely sympathetic performers. The piece takes at least two minutes less in their hands than with the original performers, but the performance feels in no way cramped. There is all the air and spaciousness one needs, and a genuine sense of the spirituality which informs Pärt's writing. The string section of the Ulster Orchestra is equally impressive, as is the player of the prepared piano who, unfairly, remains anonymous.
The remaining items on this disc are two earlier pieces: Collage über BACH and Symphony No. 3. Now, in one way this is a bold move. Rather than being offered well-known works in a similar style to Tabula Rasa, we are given the chance to explore further; to retrace the steps that the composer himself took on his long, and often discouraging musical journey.
Collage über BACH sees him emerging from his serialist period, and the piece sounds what it is: an experiment —a necessary piece in the jigsaw of his development. It could be a minor work by Lutoslawski. It could be, and indeed is, a minor work by Arvo Pärt. Symphony No. 3 is a more expansive, more fully developed piece which emerged from a protracted period of study of chant and early polyphony. Pärt himself has referred to it as a "joyous piece of music" but not "the end of my despair and my search", and it certainly has its moments. However, even at its best this symphony feels like a thoughtful and imaginative pastiche of its sources: a rather grander version of something like Poulenc's take on Arbeau's dances from Orchesographie. And, at its least successful, timpani bang away bombastically and the music starts to sound like the sound-track of a pseudo-mediaeval film, complete with Tony Curtis in a tin suit of armour. The best moments are those given to the brass, which take the role of the human voice, raised in praise.
And that's it. Three pieces, the best at the beginning; and the whole thing adding up to just over fifty minutes' music —a notably abstemious piece of programming for the usually generous Naxos. The booklet notes too are short, and also dry and over-technical. These may seem carping criticisms; after all, you don't have to part with much money. But the whole thing seems to me to be a piece of well-intentioned misjudgment. Somehow the didactic has overwhelmed the aesthetic. It may be a good idea to educate us, so we understand more of Pärt's musical development, but I suspect that those who want to listen to Tabula Rasa will find the other pieces unsatisfying. They are, in a sense, juvenilia, whatever the composer's chronological age when writing them; curiosity pieces to play your friends as part of a quiz. That said, you may wish to sample early Pärt. And even if you don't, at its bargain price I have to admit that this CD could well be worth the getting for Tabula Rasa alone.

WINTER WAS HARD

1 October 1999 | Nonesuch 79181

Kronos Quartet - Hank Dutt - David Harrington
Fratres for string quartet
Review coming soon ...

TABULA RASA - FRATRES - SYMPHONY NO. 3

9 August 1999 | DG 457647

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra - Neeme Järvi (conductor) - Roger Carlsson - Gil Shaham
Fratres - Symphony No. 3 - Tabula rasa
© Gramophone (10/1999)
Neeme Järvi has already recorded Arvo Pärt's Symphony No. 3 to fine effect with the Bamberg Symphony for BIS. The programming context there included —among other works— Pärt's first two symphonies, but here the contrast between this panoramic, occasionally fragmented, essay of 1971 and the gaunt but entrancing tintinnabulation works of the late 1970s tells us rather more about where we are now in terms of Pärt's music. There are beautiful things in the symphony —ancient modes imaginatively redeployed, sensitive orchestration (especially for strings and tuned percussion), striking musical development and a fair quota of aural drama. There are occasional anticipations of the Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, and the "breathing" spaces between episodes are characteristic of Pärt's later work. You hear the voice of someone stretching his musical wings, edging into areas of harmonic invention that would help inform his future style. It is unmistakably the work of a youthful late-romantic poised on the brink of greater things.
Turn to Fratres, and the choice of musical material becomes more select, with minimal thematic ideas (as opposed to a minimalist style of writing), meaningful repetitions and a humbling sense of space. At first I wondered how Gil Shaham might tackle a style of music in which, in terms of overt expression, "less" most definitely means "more". In the event, his firm, silvery tone is ideal for the job and his pin-sharp arpeggios at the beginning of Fratres are extraordinarily exciting. When Pärt drops the pace and switches to a slow, gradual crescendo, Shaham plays with a mesmerizing combination of control and reserved expressiveness.
The more expansive Tabula Rasa is given a full-bodied and unexpectedly dynamic performance, especially in the opening movement, which sounds like a cross between a jig and a quick march. The long second movement conjures up immeasurable spaces (a reference that Shaham himself alludes to in the booklet-note) and the spasmodic interjections of a prepared piano —an incredible effect, musically— is balanced virtually to perfection by the engineers. Kremer's ECM disc (with Schnittke, no less, on prepared piano) is sparer and marginally more ethereal, but the sheer sense of presence on this Deutsche Grammophon release adds a new perspective to our experience of the piece. I would strongly suggest that you give this disc a try, even if you already own alternative versions of this repertoire. If you haven't, then it should prove an excellent starting point.

KRONOS QUARTET: 25 YEARS

16 November 1998 | Nonesuch 79504 (10 CDs)

Kronos Quartet - Paul Hillier (conductor) - Suzanne Elder
Fratres - Missa syllabica - Psalom - Summa
Review coming soon ...

MAGNIFICAT - BERLIN MASS

3 May 1998 | Hyperion 66960

Polyphony - Stephen Layton (conductor) - Andrew Lucas (organ)
Berlin Mass - De profundis - Magnificat - Sieben Magnificat-Antiphonen - The Beatitudes
© Hyperion Records Ltd, London
Here is some of the most spiritually uplifting music of our generation, sung by that most virtuosic of choirs, Polyphony. Arvo Pärt (paralleled in England by John Tavener) has succeeded in capturing the attention of a broad public through his consummate ability to weave a sense of inevitable power into music of fundamental simplicity.
The impressive Berlin Mass which opens the disc was written in 1990, the Credo being a fascinating major-key reworking of the earlier minor-mode Summa, very much an expression of joy at the lifting of the Soviet embargo on sacred music in Estonia. Annum per Annum is a monumental work for solo organ and is here performed on the organ of St Paul's Cathedral: a thoroughly exhilarating experience. The disc ends with the masterpiece De Profundis. This most powerful of texts draws from Pärt an inexorable momentum from a beginning almost out of nothing to a devastating climax.
Recorded in Romsey Abbey, Hampshire, on 10-11 January 1997 and in St Paul's Cathedral, London (Annum per Annum) on 6 January 1998.
© Choir and Organ (11/2002)
Far from being inaccessible, Arvo Pärt's music is mesmerising, and this collection immerses the listener into a deep pool of tone colours. Pärt's De Profundis is the most powerful setting of Psalm 130 I've yet encountered. Sombre and darkly hewn, scored as it is for male voices, organ, bass drum, tam-tam and a single tubular bell, it remains, for me, the crowning glory of the disc. The Berliner Mass has a similarly ancient feel to it. Monolithic and granite-like, I commend it to all those who haven't had the 'Pärt' experience yet.
Annum per Annum, a solo organ piece is impeccably played at St Paul's Cathedral by Andrew Lucas; a superb medium for the tintinnabulous sounds that Pärt's score demands.
Stephen Layton fine-tunes Polyphony —this Roll-Royce of singing machines— with the deftness of a master craftsman. The results are always stunning, be they Arvo Pärt or any other composer. Add Andrew Lucas's peerless accompaniment and this CD becomes a landmark recording. Go and buy it.

KANON POKAJANEN

6 April 1998 | ECM Records 457834 (2 CDs)

Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir - Tõnu Kaljuste (conductor)
Kanon Pokajanen
CD booklet notes by Marina Bobrik-Frömke
The Kanon Pokajanen by Arvo Pärt is based on the canon of repentance, which already appears in the earliest Church Slavonic manuscripts. St Andrew of Crete (c. 660-740 AD), whose main composition is the well-known Great Canon, is also credited with having written this work. In the Greek-Russian Orthodox Church, the canon is part of the morning office, whose message is the appearance of Christ in the world. One rises to meet the coming of Light, which will later shine in full glory in the liturgy. In monasteries, the canon is still sung at the break of day; in parish churches, however, it is now sung the preceding evening.
The canon is a song of change and transformation. In the symbolism of the church, it invokes the border between day and night, Old and New Testament, old Adam and new Adam (Christ), prophecy and fulfillment, the here and the hereafter. Applied to a person, it recalls the border between human and divine, weakness and strength, suffering and salvation, mortality and immortality. The symbolic reference to borders is especially powerfulwhen the canon is sung in church. We may picture it as follows: The canon is heard in the nave, barely illuminated by the flickering candles, while the door to the sanctuary still remains closed. As soon as the canon has come to an end, this entrance, the "door to paradise" or the "royal door", as it is called, opens. The church is filled with light, signifying the presence of Christ.

SANCTUARY

17 February 1998 | Virgin Classics 45314

Bournemouth Sinfonietta - Richard Studt (conductor) - Tasmin Little
Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten - De profundis - Festina lente - Fratres - Magnificat - Summa - Tabula rasa (Silentium) - The Beatitudes
Review coming soon ...

STABAT MATER

2 February 1998 | Virgin Classics 45272

Taverner Consort Choir - Andrew Parrott (conductor) - Joanne Andrews - Simon Berridge
Stabat Mater for 3 voices and string trio
Review coming soon ...

BEATUS

6 October 1997 | Virgin Classics 45276

Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir - Tõnu Kaljuste (conductor)
Beatus - Cantate Domino - De profundis - Memento - Missa syllabica - Solfeggio - Statuit ei Dominus
Review coming soon ...

FRATRES

30 June 1997 | Naxos 553750

Hungarian State Opera - Tamás Benedeck (conductor) - Antal Eisrich - Miklos Kovaks
Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten - Fratres for strings and percussion - Fratres for string quartet - Fratres for cello and piano - Summa for strings
Review coming soon ...

A HILLIARD SONGBOOK

28 October 1996 | ECM Records 453259 (2 CDs)

The Hilliard Ensemble
And one of the Pharisees - Summa for strings
Review coming soon ...

LITANY

19 August 1996 | ECM Records 449810

The Hilliard Ensemble - Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra - Tõnu Kaljuste (conductor) - Saulius Sondeckis (conductor)
Litany - Psalom - Trisagion
Review coming soon ...

ANNUM PER ANNUM

1 August 1995 | New Albion 74

Christoph Maria Moosmann (organ)
Annum per annum - Mein Weg hat Gipfel und Wellentäler - Pari intervallo - Trivium
Review coming soon ...

COLLAGE

26 July 1994 | Chandos

Philharmonia Orchestra - Neeme Järvi (conductor)
Collage über B-A-C-H - Credo - Festina Lente - Fratres - Summa - Symphony No. 2
Review coming soon ...

TRIVIUM

26 April 1994 | ECM Records 21431

Christopher Bowers-Broadbent (organ)
Annum per annum - Mein Weg hat Gipfel und Wellentäler - Trivium
Review coming soon ...

ARBOS

15 February 1994 | ECM Records 21325

The Hilliard Ensemble - Paul Hillier (conductor) - Stuttgart State Orchestra - Dennis Russell Davies (conductor) - Gidon Kremer - Vladimir Mendelssohn
An den Wassern zu Babel - Arbos - De profundis - Es sang vor langen Jahren - Pari intervallo - Stabat Mater - Summa
Amazon.com Editorial Review
This CD features some great performances by Pärt specialists of a variety of shorter works. The clamorous Arbos for brass makes a startling opening for those who expect abstracted reverence; the lament, An den Wassern, has a startling ending that builds in intensity and volume only to break off mid-phrase. The static Pari Intervallo for organ leads into De Profundis, with its sense of slow but unstoppable movement (every note the same length, every measure the same rhythm). Es Sang has an unexpectedly lilting tune for solo alto, puncutated by string exclamations; Summa is a straightforward Pärt-style setting of the Credo. Arbos is repeated (this is oddly satisfying), and the disc closes with a masterpiece, the unbearably sad Stabat Mater for three voices and three strings.

BERLIN MASS - MASS TO ST ANTHONY

1 December 1993 | Koch International Classics 7177

Oregon Repertory Singers - Gilbert Seeley (conductor)
Berlin Mass
Review coming soon ...

TE DEUM

4 October 1993 | ECM Records 439162

Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir - Tallinn Chamber Orchestra - Tõnu Kaljuste (conductor)
Berlin Mass - Magnificat - Silouans Song - Te Deum
Review coming soon ...

MISERERE

24 March 1993 | ECM Records 847539

The Hilliard Ensemble - Orchester der Beethovenhalle Bonn - Paul Hillier (conductor) - Sarah Leonard (soprano) - Christopher Bowers-Broadbent (organ)
Festina lente - Miserere - Sarah was Ninety Years Old
Review coming soon ...

WERNER BÄRTSCHI

24 March 1993 | ECM Records 839659

Werner Bärtschi (piano)
Für Alina
Review coming soon ...