Arvo Pärt: The Deer’s Cry (ECM New Series 2466)

2466 X

Vox Clamantis
Jaan-Eik Tulve artistic director and conductor
Mari Poll violin
Johanna Vahermägi viola
Heikko Remmel double bass
Taavo Remmel double bass
Robert Staak lute
Toomas Vavilov clarinet
Susanne Doll organ
Recorded September 2013 and 2014 at Tallinn Transfiguration Church
Veni Creator recorded June 2007 at Dome Church of St. Nicholas of Haapsalu
Engineer: Igor Kirkwood, Margo Kõlar (Veni Creator)
Recording supervision: Helena Tulve
Mastering: Manfred Eicher and Christoph Stickel at MSM Studios München
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
Release date: September 9, 2016

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
–1 Corinthians 13:12

While in Capernaum, Jesus is invited into the house of Simon the Pharisee. There, a woman, identified in the Scriptures only as “a sinner,” approaches Jesus with an alabaster box of ointment. Much to the astonishment of the house, she washes his feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, and anoints them. When confronted by Simon about his acceptance of this act, Jesus replies by pointing out the fact that Simon offered no water for his feet or ointment for his head: “Her sins,” he says of the woman, “which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” This episode, recorded in the Gospel of Luke 7:36-50 and arranged for choir by Arvo Pärt as And One of the Pharisees (1992), is the spiritual center of a new program dedicated to the Estonian composer. Not only for its illustration of salvation through faith, but also because it serves as a loose metaphor for sacred music today. Like that sinner, Pärt washes our ears against the verbal abrasions of pharisaic intellect, his offerings thus denounced by “wisdom” of the popular yet confirmed by the Holy Spirit. In the present setting, countertenor Mikk Dede provides a vulnerable personification of Simon, while baritone Taniel Kirikal balances the equation as our humbling Savior.

Although Pharisees comes later in the sequence, its seeds are already being watered in the opening title work, The Deer’s Cry (2007). Drawing on the words of St. Patrick, it is a meditation on God’s omnipresence. Here, as in the other a cappella prayers that follow, including the Alleluia-Tropus (2008/10) and Habitare fratres in unum (2012), compact structures embody quiet resolution. Each is a link in a chain of infinite being, a harmonization of flesh and spirit through the Word, touched by graces of which we are unworthy.

Longtime Pärt listeners will notice echoes of the familiar, such as Virgencita(2012), which is eerily reminiscent of Psalom (1985/91), and a version of Summafor four voices, wherein the circle of this seminal 1977 piece is squared. Gebet nach dem Kanon (1997), from the Kanon Pokajanen, is a child wandering in search of purity, only to find himself crying in a world of corruption, his voice ignored by all except the Father whose hand shields him from brimstone. Da pacem Domine (2004/06), too, reads differently from previous ECM appearances. Where the latter felt like a telescope, now it is a microscope.

Rounding out this journey are three works for voices and chamber instruments. In Von Angesicht zu Angesicht (2005), scored for soprano, male choir, clarinet, viola and double bass, said instruments evoke the trembling fear that is the beginning of all wisdom. Pärt takes a lived understanding of that precept by following the rhythms of Biblical recitation. Veni Creator (2006), for mixed choir and organ, hovers on the brink of transfiguration and is one of his most haunting compositions. Sei gelobt, du Baum (2007), for male choir, violin, lute and double bass, is another textual wonder. Its words, by Viivi Luik, praise the tree for its wood, by which violins and organs might be built for His glory, each note released therefrom a spore returning to its creator.

Despite, if not also because, Pärt’s marked shift over the years from inner to outer, there’s an ethic of sharing in these shorter pieces. Now that his music is known worldwide, one tastes in it something grander left for listeners to decide, a piece of a mosaic that can only be completed when all us take the time to see it being made up of us all. That such profundity comes across so directly is testament to Vox Clamantis and director Jaan-Eik Tulve’s willingness to let everything speak for itself.

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