Esa-Pekka Salonen

Arvo Pärt: Symphony No. 4

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Nearly 40 years separate Pärt’s Third and Fourth symphonies, but they are surprisingly similar in tone. The Third, written in 1972 at the end of Pärt’s modernist phase, was one of his first works to presage the dramatic shift in his aesthetic sensibility away from modernism and toward music of extreme directness and simplicity. The music of the symphony was tonal or modal and showed more debt to Perotin than to Schoenberg. The Fourth Symphony is scored for strings, harp, and percussion, written in 2008 for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Canberra International Music Festival, and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Created after half a lifetime devoted to the austerity of holy minimalism, or as Pärt prefers, the tintinnabuli style, the Fourth Symphony actually sounds somewhat more like modern music than the Third. The mood is similarly serene and unhurried, but his harmonic language is richer, sometimes saturated, and most of the 35-minute work consists of very slowly unfurling clouds of sonorities. Its prevailing evolving haze is periodically punctuated by distinctly rhythmic canonic gestures, but a mood of melancholy, sometimes gentle and sometimes anguished, characterizes all the movements. The Los Angeles Philharmonic plays with the requisite luminosity and ethereality. The recording, made at the world-premiere performances in 2009, has an annoying amount of background noise, due certainly to the fact that so much of the music is so quiet. The CD is filled out with ecstatic excerpts from Kanon Pokajanen, sung with hushed fervor by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir led by Tonu Kaljuste, with immaculate sound, taken from the 1998 ECM world-premiere recording.

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