Arvo Pärt: Vocal Music
Henryk Mikołaj Górecki: Miserere
Media Review / Listening Diary 2012-11-25
2012-11-25 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2013-08-06 — New standard layout applied
2014-11-08 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-07-10 — Brushed up for better readability
Arvo Pärt (*1935): Vocal Music
I could not resist when I saw the announcement for Arvo Pärt’s latest music on CD. So, here it is, along with some CDs from my collection, with earlier versions of some of the pieces:
Arvo Pärt: Adam’s Lament
Arvo Pärt: Adam’s Lament; Beatus Petronius; Salve Regina; Statuit ei Dominus; Alleluia-Tropus; L’Abbé Agathon; Estonian Lullaby; Christmas Lullaby
Tönu Kaljuste, Latvian Radio Choir, Sinfonietta Riga, Vox Clamantis, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra
ECM New Series, ECM 2225 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 2012
Arvo Pärt: Beatus
Arvo Pärt: Statuit ei Dominus; Missa syllabica; Beatus Petronius; 7 Magnificat-Antiphons; De profundis; Memento; Cantate Domino; Solfeggio
Tönu Kaljuste, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Virgin Classics 5452762 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 1997
Arvo Pärt: Triodion
Arvo Pärt: Dopo la vittoria; Nunc dimittis; … which was the Son of … ; I am the true vine; Littlemore Tractus; Triodion; My heart’s in the Highlands; Salve Regina
Stephen Layton, Polyphony, Christopher Bowers-Broadbent
hyperion SACDA67375 (SACD, multi-channel + stereo); ℗ / © 2003
Arvo Pärt: Da pacem
Arvo Pärt: Da pacem Domine; Salve Regina; 2 Slavonic Psalms; Magnificat; An den Wassern zu Babel; Dopo la vittoria; Nunc dimittis; Littlemore Tractus
Paul Hillier, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Christopher Bowers-Broadbent
harmonis mundi USA 807401 (SACD); ℗ / © 2005, 2006
Comments, by Composition
(duration: ca. 5’10”). This was composed on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the basilica San Petronio in Bologna. Here, I now have two recordings, both directed by Tönu Kaljuste:
- The 1990 version with two organs (Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, Ene Salumäe), on the CD “Beatus” above, with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, recorded 1996.
- The 2011 version for two choirs with eight woodwind instruments, tubular bells and string orchestra (Latvian Radio Choir, Sinfonietta Riga) on the new CD, recorded in 2012.
One might think that the smaller setting with just two organs is a better fit for the scarcity in the texture of Arvo Pärt’s composition. However, I do like the new version better. It obviously is richer in sound and expression. Though, I’m sure it’s not meant to invalidate the earlier version. Pärt just reworked some of his compositions for different venues / events.
(duration: ca. 12’10” – 12’50”). I now have three recordings of this composition:
- The 2001/02 version for choir and organ, with Stephen Layton and his ensemble “Polyphony“, accompanied by Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, recorded in 2003.
- Second, the same version, recorded in 2005 by Paul Hillier and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, accompanied again by Christopher Bowers-Broadbent.
- Finally, a new version for choir, celesta and string orchestra (2011). This is part of the new recording with Tõnu Kaljuste, the Latvian Radio Choir, and the Sinfonietta Riga.
It’s not so easy to say whether I prefer the new version or the earlier one. However, for the latter I prefer Stephen Layton‘s recording over the newer one by Paul Hillier. For one, the smaller choir (Polyphony) is a better fit for the organ-only accompaniment. And then, for me, Polyphony simply is the better, more professional choir. It offers perfect intonation, transparency and voice balancing. For the Motets by Anton Bruckner, Stephen Layton and Polyphony to me are clearly beating all other recordings that I have. I don’t mean to say that the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir is bad. Quite to the contrary! However, I do prefer Polyphony here.
Then, there’s Tönu Kaljuste‘s new recording. Here the orchestra makes perfect sense with the bigger choir. If you are not familiar with Arvo Pärt’s music, then this version is the more accessible of the two. I like this music: it is calm, meditative, yet intense, touching…
Statuit ei Dominus
(duration: ca. 5′). Also this was composed on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the basilica San Petronio in Bologna. Also here, I now have two recordings, both directed by Tönu Kaljuste:
- The 1990 version for choir, soprano (Kaia Urb), tenor (Tiit Kogerman) and two organs (Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, Ene Salumäe), on the CD “Beatus” above, with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, recorded 1996. Then, there is
- the 2011 version for two choirs with eight woodwind instruments and string orchestra (Latvian Radio Choir, Vox Clamantis, Sinfonietta Riga) on the new CD, recorded in 2012.
The piece consists of three short segments of Gregorian Chant, enclosing two blocks of accompanied choir music, in Pärt’s Tintinnabuli style. The new version isn’t just a new instrumentation. Rather, Pärt has simplified, clarified the structure, enhanced the contrasts. For example, in the early version, all Gregorian parts were alternating between solo voices and the choir. In the new version they are shorter, and just for male choir (in unison, of course). The early version has the two dissonant blocks accompanied by a pedal point, whereas in the new version this is done by the orchestra, supported by a constant drum roll. My slight preference goes to the new version.
(duration: ca. 2′). Both lullabies were commissioned by Jordi Savall for his Ensemble Hesperion XXI, written in 2002, dedicated to Jordi Savall, Montserrat Figueras, and Arianna Savall). This is maybe not what one might expect from Arvo Pärt: it is — a lullaby. It sounds like a very nice, simple folk song, with harmonic string accompaniment, alternating between pizzicato and coll’ arco, ending in a half-cadence (presumably so it can be repeated in a loop).
(duration: ca. 2’30”) is maybe a little more dissonant, but still… Pärt writes about these pieces: “Lullabies are like little pieces of lost Paradise—a small consolation combined with the feeling of profundity and intimacy. I wrote these two lullabies for adults and for the child in every one of us.”
The original version of the Alleluja Tropus (duration: 2’40”) was written for Vox Clamantis in 2004 (for vocal ensemble and eight cellos); this version was written 2008/2010 — it reminds of old Christian liturgic songs, with its four Alleluja refrain segments: very nice!
On to the two biggest pieces on this CD: L’Abbé Agathon (duration: ca. 14′, composed 2004/08) for soprano, baritone, female choir and string orchestra (with Tönu Kaljuste directing Tui Hirv, Rainer Vilu, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra) is almost scenic, telling three stations in the life of St.Agathon whose love was said to be so great that he wanted to give his body to that of a leper.
I find this easy to hear (some might say: too easy?). The main theme can actually turn into somewhat of an ear-worm; towards the end it is fairly dramatic (both in the music as well as in the requirements for the soprano and (to me) very pictorial. I find this a nice piece of music. It’s maybe not Pärt’s greatest composition, but still worth listening to!
Finally, the biggest composition in this collection, Adam’s Lament (duration: ca. 24′, composed 2009) for choir and string orchestra (with Tönu Kaljuste directing the Latvian Radio Choir, Vox Clamantis, and the Sinfonietta Riga). This is written on a religious text by Staretz Silouan of Mount Athos (1866 – 1938). It’s a very impressive composition, to me again dramatic and pictorial, living. And easy to “understand” / get access to. Certainly compared to some of Arvo Pärt’s earlier, more abstract works.
Definitely a recommendation for fans of Arvo Pärt. If you are not familiar with that music, then I think this CD gives a relatively easy entry point. And you can the work towards his earlier, more abstract compositions.
… and a Post-Scriptum to conclude. While listening to the above music, some moments in Arvo Pärt’s Salve Regina reminded me of one of the very top favorites in my collection. I could not resist letting myself be side-tracked for half an hour…
Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (1933 – 2010): Miserere
Henryk Mikołaj Górecki: Miserere op.44, Amen op.35, Euntes ibant et flebant op.32, Wislo Moja, Wislo szara op.46, Szeroka woda op.39
John Nelson, Chicago Symphony Chorus, Chicago Lyric Opera Chorus
Elektra Nonesuch 7559-79346-2 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 1994
One of my top favorite recordings …
On this CD, my absolute favorites are the Amen, op.35 (references to the Amen are found in the Wikipedia entry on the Symphony No.3), and the Miserere, op.44. With these pieces I can forget the world around me and all evil on this world. And I feel in heaven, in paradise! No, I’m not nearly as religious as Górecki: to the contrary, I would rather describe myself as not religious. However, this music is so compelling, beautiful, meditative / contemplative, a very intense, begging prayer. For me it just is impossible to resist giving in to the spirit of this music!
The performance of these two extremely demanding vocal pieces (both a capella, the Amen is around 6’30”, the Miserere is almost 33′) is absolutely professional, stunning! If you need an example showing that dissonances can be beautiful, try these!