For those who want to immerse themselves in the work of Arvo Pärt (1935) but don’t know where to start, Brilliant Classics collected his most beautiful music in a reasonably priced box. The nine albums contain a generous selection from the rich oeuvre of the Estonian-born composer, ranging from solo piano pieces to impressive choral and orchestral works.
Like no other, Pärt masters the art of omission. Pärt’s style is recognisable and many listeners are deeply moved by his music. Worldwide, he is among the most performed living composers.
“Whoever wants to know my philosophy should read the Church Fathers,” said Pärt about his main source of inspiration. His first religious work ‘Credo for Piano, Choir and Orchestra’ (1968) brought him into conflict with the communist rulers in Estonia. In the early sixties he had still tried to adapt to the demands of his time and, following Boulez and Stockhausen, had written music as it was supposed to sound at the time. For Pärt, however, this turned out to be a dead-end street; for some years he even stopped composing altogether. Instead, he immersed himself in Gregorian choral singing and Renaissance music.
The Estonian composer found his own voice in a new form which he called the tintinnabuli style. With this, he refers to the musical patterns and rhythmic shifts that occur during the ringing of bells. In the same way, Pärt constantly shifts his musical motifs. As a result, his compositions retain their simplicity and reassuring familiarity, yet remain in motion.
This minimalist way of composing may be widely imitated nowadays, but Pärt was a pioneer in this field in the late 1970s. He fled his homeland in 1980 and moved to Vienna. He then travelled on to West Berlin, where he has lived for a large part of his life. Today, the composer divides his time between Estonia and Germany. After his discovery by producer Manfred Eicher in the 1980s, his fame rose rapidly.
The opening piece on the first CD is the popular ‘Spiegel Im Spiegel’ (1978). After that, it is played several more times, first in the original version by piano and violin, later only by the piano. This composition has often been used in feature films and documentaries. Another successful work is ‘Für Alina’ (1976), performed on the piano, which also appears several times. A remarkable feature of this piece is that it contains hardly any instructions. The performer is free to decide how often to repeat himself or herself. The shortest performance in the box lasts 2.5 minutes, the longest 23 minutes.
The nine CDs cover four decades. Pärt wrote ‘Symphony No. 3’ in 1971. Other early work is the string quintet ‘Fratres’ (1977), performed in eight different arrangements, and ‘Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten’ (1977). Pärt’s vocal works, which are now part of the standard choral repertoire, are well represented: ‘St. John Passion’ (1982), ‘Stabat Mater’ (1985), ‘Magnificat’ (1989), ‘Berliner Messe’ (1990) and ‘The Beatitudes’ (1991). They are performed by The Leeds Cathedral Choir, The Ulster Orchestra and Le Nuove Musiche, who have all proven to master this repertoire.
The last two CDs are played by the Dutch pianist Jeroen van Veen. He has found a fine balance between holding the attention and achieving meditative stillness. Van Veen’s slow piano playing at the end is an effective way to let go of this addictively beautiful music after so many hours of intense listening.
Berliner Messe: IV. Zweiter Alleluiavers:
Symphony No. 3: II. Second Movement:
Spiegel Im Spiegel (1978):