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Among the most forgettable of Part's oeuvre
on February 25, 2005
This ECM disc contains four works from the late 1980s and early 1990s by Estonian composer Arvo Part, performed by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra conducted by Tonu Kaljuste. Starting in the mid-1970s and continuing through the era of these recordings, Part composed in a style he called "tintinnabuli" for its bell-like tones. The austereness of the music and the religious titles of many of his works have earned this genre the name "holy minimalism." These four pieces I found these to be the most forgettable of Part's works.
"Te Deum" (1984-1986), dedicated to the music publisher Alfred Schlee, is the oldest piece here. At almost 29 minutes, it is also the longest. A setting of the well-known Latin hymn, "Te Deum" combines choral moments with some striking passages for strings. While I don't care to return to it often, the piece is for me the high point of this otherwise dismal collection.
"Silouans Song" (1991) is an instrumental work inspired by the poem of St Silouan the Athonite which begins "My soul yearns after the Lord and I seek him in tears." It is unmemorable music, sounding like a film score, and covers no interesting ground in its five minutes. "Magnificat" (1989), a ghostly a capella setting of Mary's words after her visitation by the Archangel Gabriel, is similarly disappointing.
"Berliner Messe" (1990-1992) simply baffles me. With a theme like the Mass, one should produce something grand and moving; simply look at what Mozart did with his several Masses or, among contemporary works, Ligeti in his Requiem. Instead, Part gives a dull, lifeless, and barely-audible work that has few redeeming qualities. The "Berliner Messe" was revised in 1996, and that version can be found on the recent Naxos disc.
The booklet contains the text of each of the choral works, along with translations into German, English, and French. It also has many photos of the beautiful Lohja church in Finland where the pieces were recorded. However, like the rest of the Part releases on ECM, there is no biography of the composer or musical analysis, a phenomenon I am beginning to get fed up with.
I have generally been hard on Part's work during this period for lacking any real orthodox sincerity, though his PASSIO of 1982 stands as an important exception. Part really hit his stride during the mid-1990s, when he began to broaden his style and use elements from his Eastern Orthodox faith, a time when he produced his magisterial setting of the "Kanon Pokajanen" pentinence text of St Andrew of Crete. His tintinnabuli works could at best be called merely entertaining instead of truly insightful. However, the pieces represented here are not even that.
If you have never heard the work of Arvo Part before, I'd recommend getting the LITANY or KANON POKAJANEN discs or, if you want to hear music from his tintinnabuli phase, the TABULA RASA disc, all of which are also on ECM. This TE DEUM disc is best left to completists.