Arvo Pärt / Vladimir Spivakov

Arvo Pärt: Alina

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Arvo Pärt is a living national treasure to Estonia, and this album reveals such intimate access to his faith, sadness, and humility. Structured in five parts, Alina is a simple, chilling invocation of heartfelt desire comprised of only two movements that alternate with subtle variation. The opening lullaby of "Spiegel im Spiegel" is a gentle and melancholy embrace between Sergej Bezrodney on piano and Vladimir Spivakov on violin, where every note steps gracefully forward, as if ascending a fragile staircase. In contrast, the two movements of "Für Alina" leave a little room for structured improvisation, as the top note in each chord is left for the performer to, as Pärt puts it, "explore within themselves." Thus, Alexander Malter deserves special recognition for breathing such mournful sweetness into these passages through every fingertip; every delicate cluster of notes shines like a distant star through a wintery black night. Malter stays on for the middle section of "Spiegel im Spiegel" and, with violoncello from Dietmar Schwalke, adds a more somber deliberateness to the piece that pianist Bezrodney shies away from in his performances (tracks one and five), instead opting for restrained tenderness. The disc closes much in the same way it opens: as if a prayer of deepest longing were just whispered into the still air. Frequent ECM producer Manfred Eicher calls upon his usual strengths, by letting the instruments speak for themselves in the right acoustical settings -- less is certainly more, and the stark beauty of Alina comes partly from what we hear between the notes: such a rich and gorgeous silence. This is perhaps one of Pärt's finest releases on compact disc, though one of his quietest. These are the tears of ghosts.

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