Estonian National Symphony; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Tallinn Chamber Orchestra; Tõnu Kaljuste, conductor
ECM celebrates the Silver Anniversary of their New Series this year. Given that the recording which launched the imprint was Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa, it seems especially fitting that the composer’s In Principio features prominently among its 2009 releases. Pärt’s compositional language has often focused on the barest, essentials, crafting an Eastern European version of minimalism based on bell-like sounds and sweeping ostinati. But he has extended his compositional reach during the past quarter century, as is amply attested by the recent works presented on this disc.
The title composition, scored for chorus and orchestra, is particularly intriguing. It is among the most dramatically gestural pieces from the composer since his Berlin Mass and Te Deum. Shades of Adams and Glass surface here and there in its vivid orchestration, but In Principio also calls to mind the sumptuous verticals in Bruckner’s motets and the boldness of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Mein Weg re-imagines an organ work from the 1980s as a fresh-faced minimalist tone-poem for chamber orchestra. More gradual in its evolution processes, but no less lovely, is La Sindone, a haunting, string swept meditation on the shroud of Turin. Für Lennart in Memoriam also places its emphasis on string textures, with a plaintive violin melody that serves as a supple valediction.
Perhaps the disc’s most memorable performance is the choral work Da Pacem Domine; it recalls the soberness of Bach’s Lenten chorales and the austerity of chant from the Orthodox liturgy, all over a glacially shifting ground bass; a memorably poignant plea for peace. Here, as throughout, Tõnu Kaljuste leads with skill and tremendous sympathy for Pärt’s work.