Arvo Pärt is that comparative rarity, a composer who has achieved mass popularity in his own lifetime. Born in Estonia in 1935 but resident in Berlin since 1980, he dabbled with 12-tone techniques in his youth, but found the process hideously sterile. His subsequent musical rebirth was rooted in his explorations of Gregorian chant and plainsong as well as an embracing of the Russian Orthodox church, a combination of elements which inspired the simple but profoundly emotional music which has become his trademark.
Da Pacem is a peerless demonstration of Pärt's gifts as a writer for voices, exploiting the pure, resonant sonorities of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir (directed by his long-term collaborator Paul Hillier) across nine pieces written over the course of three decades. The disc coheres beautifully into a whole, but highlights include the exquisite Magnificat (1989) and the stately and Bach-evoking Salve Regina (2001), while the two Slavonic Psalms he wrote a decade ago offer a window into his so-called “tintinnabuli” style (i.e. they sound like ringing bells). Pärt is often roped in with other so-called “sacred minimalists” including Gorecki and John Tavener, but Da Pacem speaks in its own unmistakable voice.