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With a number of modern classics already to his name, notably the Symphony No. 3 , Tabula Rasa , Fratres and Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten , culminating in 1982 with his largest work thus far, the St John Passion , Arvo Part has during the past 20 y
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Cantate Domino Canticum Novum (Psalm 95) (1977, rev. 1996)
Berliner Messe (1990-91, rev. 1992)
De Profundis (1980)
The Beatitudes (1990, rev. 1991)
The largest piece here (23 minutes long) is the seven-movement 'Berliner Messe' which exists in several versions. The one here is for string orchestra and choir. The orchestral accompaniment is very spare (and very lovely) and, as with most of Pärt's choral music, the choir sings a kind of extended Gregorian chant with much unison singing but also with austere choral harmonies that often include added-note triadic chords. The effect is prayerful and serene. The 'Credo' is a rewriting of the earlier 'Summa,' which also appears here as a separate piece. In both the 'Credo' and the earlier 'Summa' there is a medieval-sounding etiolation of Lutheran chorale tunes. The 'Agnus Dei' is particularly haunting.
The setting of the 'Psalm 95' ('O sing unto the Lord a new song') is a simple chant-like setting for four-part chorus and organ with changing harmonies and spare organ accompaniment. 'De Profundis' ('Out of the depths I have called unto Thee') does indeed rise out of the depths, with tenors and basses intoning the main theme; quiet bass drum strokes and a recurring single tubular chime note against a wavering organ ostinato create an incantatory effect. 'The Beatitudes' and 'Magnificat' (the latter possibly the most performed of all of Pärt's choral pieces) are in like vein. The seven-minute 'Magnificat' alternates solo and choral sections and perhaps provides a bit more contrast than others of his works.
Although I have not heard other recordings of these pieces, I cannot praise too highly the limpid, lightly inflected, and reverent singing of the Elora Festival Singers, along with the excellent support of their partners, the Elora Festival Orchestra and organist Jürgen Petrenko, led by their conductor (and Elora founder) Noel Edison. This is music-making at the highest level.
I know nothing about music formally, so I am blissfully ignorant of the technicality of what Part -- or any musician -- is doing. But in listening to Arvo Part, my sense is that his tintinnabulism (if that's the correct noun) has functioned at a level unattainable by so many other composers. I hope more and more people will gain access to him in the U.S. It is a music that transforms, that challenges, that soothes, that unravels, and that re-creates one's relationship to the universe. Pompous as that sounds -- ya gotta go for it!