Various Artists

The Silence of Being: The Music of Arvo Pärt

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Five of the discs on this six-CD set are previously released Naxos recordings of a broad variety of works by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. The set offers a generous sampling of works spanning the composer's career, from his polystylistic Collage über BACH (1964) for orchestra to his 2001 Nunc dimittis for a cappella chorus. The bulk of the collection is devoted to works with his characteristic holy minimalist sound, using his tintinnabuli technique, in which there is a mathematically exact connection between the various lines. The set includes several of his major large-scale works, such as the St. John Passion, Berliner Messe, and Tabula Rasa, as well as many of his most popular smaller works, like Fratres (in six different arrangements), Cantus in memorium Benjamin Britten, Festina lente, De Profundis, and vocal and instrumental versions of Summa. The avowed Pärt devotee will probably already own performances of most of these pieces, but at the bargain price at which Naxos is offering the set, it offers listeners who aren't widely familiar with Pärt's music a fine introduction to his work. The quality of the performances varies; none are less than very good, but few measure up to the luminous original recordings on ECM, performed by groups such as the Berlin Philharmonic, Hilliard Ensemble, Gidon Kremer, the Theatre of Voices, and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. The performances by the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra on the disc devoted to the six versions of Fratres, Festina lente, Summa, and Cantus are somewhat diffident, but Tonus Peregrinus, led by Antony Pitts, sings the St. John Passion with purity, intensity, and drama. The disc of more recent unaccompanied choral music dating from 1990 to 2001 includes lesser known but highly attractive works, beautifully performed by Elora Festival Singers conducted by Noel Edison. Naxos astutely includes a bonus disc, Sonic Rebellion, a sampler of newer classical music likely to appeal to the kind of listener drawn to mavericks like Pärt. The eclectic collection is wonderfully diverse, including composers as different as Glass, Nancarrow, Henze, Riley, Wuorinen, Ligeti, Scelsi, and Adams, and should whet the appetite of fans of new music to look into the Naxos catalog.

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