Tõnu Kaljuste / Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra

Arvo Pärt: The Symphonies

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When you see an album of works by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, the genre Symphony is not the first one to come to mind. Yet this collection of the composer's four works that make reference to that venerable form has much to tell the Pärt admirer. Only the final Symphony No. 4 ("Los Angeles"), dedicated to the dissident Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorovsky, reflects Pärt's mature minimalist style. The first two symphonies, from the 1960s, are serialist in orientation, something that carried its own risks in Soviet Russia. The Symphony No. 3, from 1971, reflected a radically simplified harmonic idiom but was not yet defined by the minimalist textures and "tintinnabulation" effects of Pärt's later music. What's interesting about these pieces is that Pärt's path away from serialism was a different process from the u-turn of a Steve Reich or George Rochberg. Pärt bent serialism to his own ends, and it's quite easy to hear the massed sounds of the later composer in these early works. Sample the first movement of the Symphony No. 2, or even the use of canon in the Symphony No. 1, from Pärt's student years. And again, Pärt did not adopt his new style wholesale but took his time working it out. The NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra under Estonia's Tönu Kaljuste are ideal interpreters of this music, and Pärt's thought processes would not have been as clearly audible without ECM's nonpareil sound. Recommended especially for Pärt lovers.

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