Arvo Pärt: In Principio (ECM New Series 2050)

 

Arvo Pärt
In Principio

Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra
Tallinn Chamber Orchestra
Tõnu Kaljuste conductor
In principio; La Sindone; Cecilia, vergine romana recorded June 2008 at Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn
Engineer: Teije van Geest
Recording assistant: Thomas Gärtner
Digital editing: Kohei Seguchi
Mixed by Teije van Geest, Manfred Eicher, Arvo Pärt, and Tõnu Kaljuste
Da pacem Domine, Mein Weg, Für Lennart in memoriam recorded May 2007 at Niguliste Church, Tallinn
Engineer: Margo Kõlar
Recording assistance and editing: Helena Tulve
MIxed at Rainbow Studio by Manfred Eicher, Arvo Pärt, and Jan Erik Kongshaug (engineer)
Produced by Manfred Eicher

In the beginning was the word, and in the word was sound, music, life itself. Such are the sentiments behind In principio, the title work of Arvo Pärt’s eleventh album for ECM. The label that started it all has been charting the Estonian composer’s work with devotion since 1985, when producer Manfred Eicher introduced his New Series with Tabula rasa. Because of him, we’ve been privileged to witness Pärt’s evolution as a musical thinker in a devolving world.

The eponymous 2003 work for mixed choir and orchestra bursts with a dramatic edge that sounds fresh to these ears. Its choral blast and ascendant strings seem to leap into the firmament, yet with such restraint that one hears order in every movement. The orchestral writing and performance are on point throughout, especially in the third movement, which introduces an atmosphere of lamentation. Voices spread, melting into brass chords, sustaining themselves through the nourishment of the fourth movement, in which the orchestra flashes through the darkness like a lighthouse. In this regularity one hears a touch of Philip Glass, especially in the flute of the final movement, amid a heap of faith.

The simpler Pärt’s music is, the more detailed it becomes. We can hear this in the descriptive approach of La Sindone for orchestra. Composed in 2006, it evokes (and ponders) the Shroud of Turin, where the piece received its premier performance. Moments of stunning lucidity open their eyes against the music’s gradual swell, which the orchestra handles with appropriate sensitivity. Cecilia, vergine romana (2000, rev. 2002) for mixed choir and orchestra in an ode to the eponymous patron saint of musicians. At sixteen and half minutes, it is among the album’s longer works. As such, it adopts a relatively clustered approach, shifting instrumental and vocal combinations with great vigor. One notes especially the pounding tympani, which leaves only the slightest of dents in the music’s unbreakable bonds. Next, Da Pacem Domine (2004/07) finds itself expanded from its original a cappella version to include a full choir and orchestra. The same stepwise motions are there, but the line drawn by the sopranos throughout is more profound than ever. Mein Weg (1989/99, rev. 2000) also finds itself repackaged here. Originally for organ, it is now scored for 14 strings and percussion. Ancestral wisdom paints a new dawn for every bow drawn, and finds in its revelation the path toward afterlife. Which brings us to Für Lennart in memoriam (2006), written for the funeral of late Estonian president Lennart Georg Meri. This endearing orchestral statement signs a mostly exultant program with a somber flourish.

If I had to describe Pärt’s music in one word, I would call it “non-allegorical.” This is as direct as it gets.

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