It really is extraordinary these days for the music of a living composer to have multiple recordings and for those recordings to become best-sellers, but that is precisely what has happened with the music of Arvo Pärt, the 71-year-old Estonian composer whose choral music on sacred texts has become wildly popular, even among non-classical-music fans. There is something ethereally attractive about the music. It helps that it is unfailingly tonal, has a serenity that is sorely needed in these troubled days, and that it has attracted performances by such marvelous groups as the Elora Festival Singers on the present disc. The Elora singers are surely one of the best professional choral groups in North American, not to say the world. It is made up of singers drawn from the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and has been singing together for twenty-five years under its founder, Noel Edison. I raved about their previous recording, also on Naxos, of Pärt's 'Berliner Messe.' And this review is also a rave. It is rare that someone comes into my home, hears a snippet of a recording and wants not only to know who and what it is but wants to get a copy for themselves. That has happened with this recording and I notice that although the CD has been available at Amazon for less than a month, it is already one of their classical bestsellers. No surprise, really, since this is immediately attractive music sung exquisitely, impeccably, sensitively by the Elora Singers.
Most of the works recorded here have been recorded before, but never better. They are pieces written in the decade between 1990 (Triodion) and 2001 (Bogoróditse Djévo [Mother of God and Virgin]). All the texts are religious, most of them in English or church Latin; the non-English texts are translated and the English texts supplied in the accompanying booklet. All have a radiantly reverential quality accomplished at least partly by Pärt's use of melodies influenced by Gregorian chant and accompanied by what he calls 'tintinnabuli', the simple bell-like triadic harmonies underlying them. This approach has a trance-like or meditative quality that many people, even non-religious types (myself included), find irresistible.
One last comment: on the basis of the inclusion of Ode VII (Memento) from Pärt's 1994 'Kanon Pokajanen', his longest extended work since the St. John Passion, I would love to find that the Elora Festival Singers intend to record the whole thing.