Saturday, 15 February 2014

Arvo Part - Pilgrim's Song from Voces Musicales

Arvo Part: Pilgrim's Song : ERP2309
Arvo Part - Pilgrim's Song: Voces Musicales, Tallinn Sinfonietta, Risto Joost: ERP
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 7 2014
Star rating: 5.0
Control & flexibility: This disc of Estonian forces performing music by one of Estonia's greatest composers is certainly work seeking out.

This 2009 disc from ERP features the chamber choir Voces Musicales and the Tallin Sinfonietta (now known as the Glasperlenspiel Sinfonietta), conducted by Risto Joost in a selection of Arvo Part's settings of sacred texts for choir and orchestra starting with Ein Wallfahrtslied setting Psalm 12, Magnificat, Summa, Nunc Dimittis and Te Deum. The disc was the choir's first disc and in it they showcase their superb technique.

Ein Wallfahrtslied (Pilgrim's Song) was originally written in 1984 for tenor, baritone and string orchestra with the version for male choir and string orchestra written in 1984. The piece was composed in memory of the composer's frend, film director Grigori Kromanov. The work has the male chorus singing the text effectively on a monotone, around which the strings place atmospheric accompaniments. I have to admit that it sounds the least like Arvo Part of any of the works of his, it has a certain central European feel to the string writing without the tintinabuli technique for which the composer is famous. The result is atmospheric and highly effective. The performance, particularly from the choir, is beautifully controlled and restrained allowing the strings to move around them.


With Magnificat we are back on more familiar ground with Part's austerely simple but effective writing using the tintinabuli technique whereby the composer combines chant-like melody with accompaniment based on arpeggiated triads. The results are highly effective and affecting but require superb control from the choir. It is a style of writing which the slightest vocal blemish, poorly tuned note or uneven attack can mar. Voces Musicales are fully up to the task, combining a fine-grained tone with beautiful placing of notes and careful accuracy, all highly restrained and powerfully effective. Magnificat written for unaccompanied choir was written in 1989, for the boys choir, Staatschor and Domchor Berlin. It is perhaps one of Part's most supple and subtle pieces. Here Joost and his choir bring out all those qualities in a stunning performance.

Summa is best known in its string orchestra version, here Voces Musicales perform in in a version for vocal version, using the text of the Credo. It is a far less meditative piece than Magnificat, with a dynamic moving quality. Joost and his singers bring a nice flexibility to the sound. Joost keeps the tempo flowing but it never sounds rushed and has a beautiful flowing quality, with the singers turning in some superbly placed singing in the arpeggiated passages. The whole is poised and rather hypnotic.

Nunc Dimittis was written in 2001 and first performed by the choir of St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh, conductor Matter Owens. We are still recognisably in the tintinabuli technique, but Part's writing is denser and perhaps more sophisticated, without the austere meditative quality of his earlier works. But Voces Musicales give the piece a quietly intense and concentrated quality. The choir numbers some 26 singers, so the sound has a clarity and flexibility, and lacks the massiveness of some performances, but that is not a fault and I found their climaxes all the more remarkable and moving for the focus that the fewer performers brings.

Te Deum is written for three choirs (women's choir, men's choir, mixed choir), string orchestra, perpared piano and phonogram (wind harp). It was commissioned by the Westdeutscher Rundfunk Radio in Cologne, Germany in 1984 and dedicated to the late Alfred Schlee of Universal Edition, the WDR Broadcast Choir premiered the Te Deum under the direction of conductor Dennis Russell Davies on January 19, 1985. The work has a powerfully concentrated feel, and despite the sometimes dramatic nature of the writing there is a feeling of the eternal. Part's use of his different groupings in blocks has the effect of making the music remarkably dramatic despite the stasis of Part's technique. The work is quite a considerable one, lasting nearly 30 minutes and certainly not suitable for liturgical use (unlike the other works on the disc). Joost and his forces sustain the piece over its long span and Joost clearly has a good architectonic grasp of the work.

Voces Musicales was originally founded by Risto Joost in 1999, whilst he was a student at the Estonian Academy of Music and the original group consisted mainly of his fellow students. The choir re-formed in 2003 after Joost's period of study in Berlin and developed from a student choir into a professional group whose repertoire includes music from the Renaissance to the present day. From the flexibility and beauty which they bring to Part, you can perhaps tell that they also spend a lot of time singing Palestrina.

This is a very finely performed disc and I am extremely glad to have made its acquaintance. Risto Joost and Voces Musicales deliver some very fine singing indeed, combining superb control with expressivity and making Part's music really count, and they are finely supported by the Tallinn Sinfonietta. This disc of Estonian forces performing music by one of Estonia's greatest composers is certainly work seeking out.

Arvo Part (born 1935) - Ein Wallfahrslied (1984/2001) [10.02]
Arvo Part (born 1935) - Magnificat (1990) [6.33]
Arvo Part (born 1935) - Summa (1977)  [4.36]
Arvo Part (born 1935) - Nunc dimittis (2001) [7.33]
Arvo Part (born 1935) - Te Deum (1984/1992) [29.50]
Voces Musicales
Tallinn Sinfonietta
Risto Joos (conductor)
ERP 2309 1 CD [58.34]


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