An early disillusionment with neo-classical and serial trends helped kick-start a radically minimal approach. This is the latest in a long line of Pärt releases on ECM.
It’s difficult, then, not to measure it against his earlier discs, including landmarks like Passio and Tabula Rasa. In such company, I’m not entirely convinced by this album. It contains two relatively recent works, written a decade apart. The first, and more successful, is Kanon Pokajanen from 1997. It’s beautiful, classic Pärt – a smooth sound sculpture in which every contour is audible and every line counts. The text is the Canon of Repentance, an Orthodox hymn from the 8th century, sung in Old Church Slavonic. The singing here is gloriously full, transcribing the rich resonance of the Niguliste Church in Tallinn, Estonia. Pärt evidently took his time, spending an “enriching” two years writing it, and it paid off.The Symphony No 4 is a different matter.
By its nature Pärt’s music is sparse; however, this piece seems in search of a core. It has all of his trademarks: pockets of sound balanced with silence; high strings; occasional pizzicato flourishes. Yet its greater purpose eludes me. Perhaps it’s the symphonic tag. Part’s previous symphonies were written before his 1970s “conversion”; since then such absolute music has been rare. This symphony claims that angels are its underlying theme, but this seems a little pat for a part-commission by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I admit it’s grown on me after a few listens. But for spiritual and aural depth I’d start with a different Pärt.