Tõnu Kaljuste / Estonian National Symphony Orchestra / Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir

Arvo Pärt: In Principio

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This collection of music by Arvo Pärt includes six of his choral and orchestral works, five of which were written between 2000 and 2007. This is not music that breaks new ground for the composer. Its austere tone is suffused in mysticism, and it manages to sound both archaic and very new, with a surface that can seem simplistic, but which in fact is rigorously worked out. The selection, though, offers a nicely diverse sampling of pieces, some for orchestra and some for chorus and orchestra, representing a variety of moods, from the somber Für Lennart in memoriam to the contrapuntally lively Mein Weg. Für Lennart in memoriam, for string orchestra is a soulful lament written to honor Lennart Meri, the president of Estonia, which reflects the textures and mood of Pärt's early choral works from the 1970s. Mein Weg, an orchestral reflection on a sober poem by Edmond Jabès, has a perkiness that seems a little at odds with its subject matter, but it's an especially attractive piece, with more chromaticism than is usual for the composer. Cecilia, vergine romana, for mixed voices and orchestra, is a kind of mini-cantata on the life of the third century saint and has more textural variety than is typical for a Pärt score, included a section with a rocking accompaniment reminiscent of Philip Glass. It's an engaging piece that could appeal to listeners who find the composer's more characteristic style too severe. The performing duties are divided between the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, all conducted by Pärt specialist Tonu Kaljuste. The sound of the singers and players is ideally chaste and pure, and the performances are, in a way, passionate, not an adjective usually associated with Pärt, but the approach is successful in bringing the works to life with a special vividness. ECM's sound is clean and clear with just the right amount of resonance.

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