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Arvo Pärt: A Tribute
26 Sep 2005

Arvo Pärt: A Tribute

Paul Hillier has written the book on Arvo Pärt, quite literally. He has spent significant time with the Estonian composer interviewing him, working with him, and studying his music. He has not only authored the only text researching Pärt's music and background, but Hillier also seems to one of the first to perform and record his music, thereby exposing it to the general public.

Arvo Pärt: A Tribute

Estonian Chamber Choir; Theatre of Voices; Pro Arte Singers; Paul Hillier, dir.

Harmonia Mundi HMU907407 [CD]


Arvo Pärt: A Tribute, was released in celebration of Arvo Pärt's 70th birthday on September 11, 2005. This compilation disc offers an exquisite retrospective of the composer’s choral music. Nearly all of Pärt's choral music comes from his second period, in the now familiar tintinnabuli style and with sacred texts. Despite the technique's strict rigidity, the sustaining of a single triad throughout the work, the works on this recording represent great variety. Over the past thirty years or so Pärt has expanded his emotional palette by varying the textures of tintinnabuli.

The second track, the Women With The Alabaster Box, evokes the cold artic north of the Baltic. The sound is hollow and stark with wide voicings and slow moving tempo and harmonic motion. In a complete contrast the short Bogoroditse Djevo, the Eastern Orthodox Ave Maria, is light and quick. This joyous setting is Russian in style with a thick but bright harmonic texture. Pärt also achieves great warmth in his setting of I am the True Vine. The harmonic progressions are rich and sonorous and even include occasional, vague melodic ideas in the soprano. The piece with the densest and fullest sound is the fabulous Which Was The Son Of... . The frequently repeated words “which was the son of” are set with great variety from pulsing incantation to strong declamation. Driving rhythmic patterns build up to large full climactic cluster chords and ultimately a beautiful resolution at the final cadence at “God.”

As a compilation, this disc includes three choirs all led by Paul Hillier. There is also variety in the performances because of the nature of the choirs. The Estonian Chamber Choir has quickly risen in the public eye as one of the leading European Choirs. Their singing is robust yet clean, virtuosic yet subtle, and extremely passionate. The Theater of Voices, Hillier's regular ensemble, carries the bulk of the CD with beautiful clarity. A smaller group, their sound is quite refined and clear with precise intonation and uniformity across all parts. Joining them on three tracks is the Pro Arte Singers, bulking their numbers, but maintaining the exquisite sound.

The liner notes provide a little background to Pärt's music, the tintinnabuli style, and the text and origin of each work. But it is the music and the performance that sets this recording apart from many contemporary choral releases. Hillier's scholarship and artistry bring out the subtlety and passion in Pärt's music with honesty and integrity. Hillier notes in the liner booklet that “Arvo Pårt's music is now famous.” What he humbly fails to mention, is that in large part it is due to him.

Adam Luebke

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