Arvo Pärt - Musica Selecta - ECM New Series 2454/55



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Arvo Pärt and Manfred Eicher have maintained their creative partnership for more than thirty years. Eicher launched ECM New Series in 1984 as a platform for Pärt’s music, bringing the Estonian composer to the world’s attention with the album Tabula Rasa. Since that epochal release, all first recordings of Pärt’s major works have been made for ECM, with the composer’s committed participation. This association between composer and record producer is, as Paul Griffiths has noted, “an example of loyalty and collegiality unique in our time.”

“My contact with ECM is beyond categorization,” Arvo Pärt has said. “It is a natural supplement to my composing. Manfred Eicher’s instrument is sound, acoustics, the sounding space which can be heard only by him. He hears in a special way and his records are a result of this hearing. What I call a piece of art made by Manfred is actually a rich and sensitive complex of hearing, thinking, feeling, taste and artistic skill, a whole philosophy.

It is also something very lively and in continuous formation. Our work together making new records is always a celebration.”

In this special double album, issued on Pärt’s birthday, Eicher revisits episodes from their shared quest “for the sound, for spirituality”. Compositions heard here include the ECM premiere recordings of Es sang vor langen Jahren, Für Alina, Mein Weg, Kanon Pokajanen, Silouans Song, Fratres, Alleluia-Tropus, Trisagion, Beatus Petronius, Wallfahrtslied/ Pilgrims’ Song, Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, Magnificat, Festina Lente, Lamentate, Stabat Mater, and Da Pacem Domine.

The spirit behind Pärt’s sparsely-notated music can prove elusive for interpreters, and what appears simple on the page may prove, in practice, to be anything but simple. As Eicher often remarks, quoting Valéry, “nothing is more mysterious than clarity”.


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In his liner note the producer observes that “new music needs its own space in which to sound, to breathe, to flower. That has been one of our considerations throughout our long close-running collaboration, as well as the detailed attention to the needs of Arvo Pärt’s meticulously-placed sounds and silences, and the particular care in the choice of musicians.” The search for the appropriate sounding space for individual compositions has led Eicher and Pärt to visit churches, recital rooms and studios across Europe, and the pieces here were variously recorded in Basel, Bonn, Frankfurt, Lohja, London, St. Gerold, Sindelfingen, Stockholm, Stuttgart and Tallinn, between 1983 and 2011.

As for the performers, documentation of Pärt on ECM started with the recording of Fratres with Gidon Kremer and Keith Jarrett joining forces for the first (and so far only) time and has expanded to embrace many musicians who have, in turn, become closely associated with Pärt’s music.

These have included the Hilliard Ensemble, the British vocal group whose pure approach to early music was to prove eminently adaptable to Pärt’s timeless oeuvre as the previously unreleased version of Most Holy Mother of God here attests.

When ECM began to record Arvo Pärt’s work, Estonia was part of the Soviet Union, and Pärt’s affirmation, in his music, of his Christian faith was viewed as political provocation by the communist authorities. In this period, Pärt’s pieces could not get a hearing in his homeland. The picture changed with Estonian independence in 1991, with a new generation of musicians emerging, eager to play the music. A strong alliance was forged between Pärt and conductor Tõnu Kaljuste. Under his direction the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra became exemplary interpreters of Pärt’s musical thought, and both choir and orchestra made their debut recordings with ECM New Series.


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Kaljuste underlines the importance of the ECM albums by curating a series of concerts in Tallinn, Paide and Riga throughout September, as part of the Arvo Pärt Days celebrating the composer’s 80th birthday. Headlined Monumental Albums, the concerts present performances of all pieces on the original recordings. Alina, Tabula Rasa, and Orient & Occident are featured at the first event at Tallinn’s Noblessner Foundry (September 2). Trivium and Arbos are played at the Nigluiste Church, Tallinn (September 3), and Lamentate and In Principio reprised at the Noblessner Foundry (September 4). Kanon Pokajanen and Litany are performed at Jaani Church, Tallinn (September 5), and Passio at the Oliveste Church, Tallinn (September 6). The Jaani Church is also the venue for performances of Te Deum (September 7) and Miserere (September 9). Events on Pärt’s September 11 birthday include a Tabula Rasa performance in Päide, the composer’s birthplace, and the series concludes with

Adam’s Lament at the Riga Dome Cathedral on September 26.

Meanwhile, Musica Selecta proposes an optimal crash course in Pärt on ECM for the newcomer, and evokes fresh associations for the experienced listener with its juxtapositions of pieces, as we are invited to hear the music anew.

CD booklet includes a liner note by Manfred Eicher in German and English and a number of previously unpublished photos.