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CD Feature/ Arvo Pärt: "Music for Unaccompanied Choir"

img  Tobias

As a composer, you know you’re on the right track when everyone is writing about you in cliches – and absolutely everything, even the tiniest detail about Arvo Pärt is a cliche: His tintinnabuli style, his obsession for medieval mysteries, him being “one of the most significant contemporary composers” (or totally overrated), his beard. What it comes down to, however, is that Pärt has managed to create a renewed sense of excitment for what many in the last century considered to be discontinued models: Harmony, sacred music, choral works. “Music for unaccompanied Choir” is a showcase for all three elements, featuring a selection of pieces from the 1990s, which saw him rise from a notoriously sentimental agitator to an acclaimed and widely accepted innovator.

It also serves as a reminder of Pärts love for Bach, which he toyed with extensively in the early phase of his career and which has now turned into the core of his oeuvre. The same creed and undoubting belief, the same absoluteness, spirituality, all-embracing nature and gravity of even the smallest of gestures have become inherent to everything he writes. Describing the music on this album is therefore as easy as pie: Think “Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden” (one of the most moving moments of Bach’s “Passion of Mathew”), add a few ethereal harmonics and floating moments of total tonal stagnancy – and you’ve got a pretty good picture of what to expect. And yet despite the obvious similarities (which have lead some to call him a copycat) and the never-changing basic approach (which is why others claim there’s no need to buy more than one of his CDs), this is truly a monument of personal expression and a work in constant search of itself. These pieces gracefully move in their own pace, undistracted, unobtruded, in an eternal void. Clusters of voices form, dissolve, give way to short monophonic passages, which in turn combine for a new triad. The absence of more “complex” compostional architectures is not even once an indication of a lack of deepness. Quite on the contrary, this music, incapable of touching the superficial, is always directed towards the grand, the majestic, the holy: The almost a quarter of an hour long “Triodion” exhudes a calm and imperturbable certitude, the ten minutes of “Dopo la vittoria” are full of joy and exaltation, while “Nunc dimittis” (a commission by the St Mary’s Episcopal Church in Edinbourgh and the most recent track to be found here) sends warm waves of consolation.

The old terminologies have finally lost their meaning: There’s not even such a thing as “Soft dissonance” in a work which is always cancelled. Does it follow, therefore, that Arvo Pärt has chosen the path of least reistance and avoided cacophony for compromise’s sake? No. It simply implies he has followed through on his instincts and recognised the eternal truth in the triad of harmony, sacred music and choral works. That’s why he will continue to walk down this road, regardless of whether that makes him a living cliche or not. And that’s also why he will forever be one of the most significant contemporary composers, totally overrated as well as the “inventor” of the tintinnabuli style with an obsession for medieval mysteries. And the man with the beard.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Arvo Pärt
Homepage: Naxos

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