Various Artists, Modern Classics: Arvo Part

John Schaefer

By John Schaefer

on 12.14.11 in Reviews

Various Artists

The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt has become a favorite in concert halls and on classical music recordings. But even in a very crowded field, this collection stakes its place, with some of Pärt’s finest works, in performances featuring the Tapiola Sinfoniette and the pianist Alexei Lubimov, both sympathetic interpreters of the composer’s appealing, tintinnabulary works. Pärt’s best-known piece, “Fratres,” exists in more than a dozen arrangements, but the combination of strings and softly thudding percussion presented here is perhaps the most effective. This recording is noticeably faster than most — a welcome change as Pärt’s reputation as a musical mystic has led to ever-slower performances of his work.

A collection with some of Part’s finest works

Two other longtime favorites are recorded here: “Tabula Rasa,” for two violins, prepared piano and strings, is a hypnotic set of musical themes that cycle through in ever-lengthening loops. (Comparisons to Brian Eno’s Music For Airports might not be as crazy as they first seem.) The first movement is built around a dramatic, falling example of Pärt’s bell-ringing approach to composition (again, Eno comparisons are surprisingly apropos), while the second movement is a gently rocking, swaying soundscape that is one of Pärt’s most enduring creations.

Other Arvo Pärt “hits” here include the “Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten,” a lush, harmonically static piece of ambient orchestral music; and “Spiegel Im Spiegel,” or “Mirror in a Mirror,” an ethereal work for violin over a tolling piano. Two choral works, both relatively brief, offer another perspective on the composer: “The Beatitudes,” for choir and organ, is a rare foray into setting English, and may contain some echoes of Anglican sacred music, while “Magnificat,” one of Pärt’s many Latin settings, is a typically lambent work for a cappella chorus.