Tõnu Kaljuste / Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir

Arvo Pärt: Kanon Pokajanen

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AllMusic Review by Evan Cater

Arvo Part's Kanon Pokajanen is a work of starkly radiant beauty, a deeply felt plea for forgiveness so resonant it seems to bear its own expiatory power. The piece is a choral setting of the Russian Orthodox Church's canon of repentance, believed to have been composed by St. Andrew of Crete sometime in the late seventh century. Part had experimented with the canon in earlier works, but when the Cologne Cathedral commissioned him to compose a choral piece for its 750th anniversary, he took the opportunity to immerse himself in it completely. Over two years of intense quality time with the work, Part produced an 80-minute choral setting of the entire canon that mines each word of the original Church Slavonic (a language used exclusively in ecclesiastical texts) for its maximum musicality and meaning. Part believes language to be more important to a choral work than the music. In the liner notes, he explains that he wants each word "to find its own sound, to draw its own melodic line." The result is a piece that moves slowly and deliberately through the canon, making ample use of the silences between the words. The juxtaposition of the deep bass men's voices with the high soprano women's voices, sung in the dissonant harmonic style of medieval chant, parallels the canon's night and day symbolism. Part's version, performed in an immaculate recording by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, captures the sunrise feeling of a song that is still sung at the break of day in European monasteries. Marina Bobrik-Fromke's liner notes describe it beautifully: "The canon is heard in the nave, barely illuminated by the flickering candles, while the door to the sanctuary still remains closed. As soon as the canon has come to an end, this entrance...opens. The church is filled with light, signifying the presence of Christ." Asked by an interviewer how best to listen to the piece, Part laughed. "First of all," he said, "Turn off the television." If you're looking for background music, Kanon Pokajanen is not your best choice. This is music to soak in, music to meditate to. Music of searing intensity that finds that part of the soul, so often neglected in today's fast-paced lifestyle, that is starved for reverence, fear, and awe, longing to say "Come out to seek me; lead me up to Thy pasturage and number me among the sheep of Thy chosen flock. Nourish me with them on the grass of Thy Holy Mysteries."

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