Arvo Pärt: Portrait

Angèle Dubeau / La Pietà

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Arvo Pärt: Portrait Review

by Stephen Eddins

Arvo Pärt: A Portrait, a collection of performances by Canadian violinist Angèle Dubeau and her string ensemble La Pietà, is easily among the finest recordings devoted to Pärt's instrumental music. It includes his best-known works for strings, with the exception of Fratres, in performances of exceptional purity that get at the heart of his uniquely simple, chaste, and directly communicative music. Dubeau can easily dazzle with the virtuosity of her technique and magnetism of her personality, but she puts herself wholeheartedly in the service of Pärt's self-effacing aesthetic and elicits performances of the same kind of sensitivity and restraint from La Pietà. Soloist and ensemble beautifully achieve the white sound Pärt describes as essential to his music, a whiteness that's not the absence of color, but a glowing, luminescent whiteness. This performance of Tabula rasa, for two violins, strings, and prepared piano has a hushed reverence that makes it the mystical experience the composer wanted it to be. Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, one of the composer's most miraculously simple scores, is played with a wrenching intensity that gives eloquent voice to the depth of his grief. The rarity on the disc is Wallfahrtslied, Pärt's eccentric setting of Psalm 121, for unison men's voices and strings, in which the voices chant on a single tone for long stretches at a time, changing pitch only four times over the course of the piece. The string part is no less inscrutable, with little apparent relationship to the text, but even in its oddness, the work has a mysterious power, particularly when played and sung with the conviction here. Spiegel im Spiegel, one of the composer's most popular works, closes the CD, like a benediction, with a mood of radiant sweetness and serenity. Analekta's sound is immaculate and strongly present. This disc would be a terrific introduction to Pärt's instrumental music for anyone not familiar with it, but because of the outstanding quality of the performances, it should also be of interest even to ardent fans who may already have recordings of these works.

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