Pärt Choral Works
Blown across the strings of a 'windharp', the primal drone that opens Arvo Part's Te Deum (1984/5; revised 1986) seems more a collective memory than a musical ground-bass. Yet the idea of having the howling wind symbolize souls ''born of the Spirit'' comes from John, Chapter 3. And it is Spirit first and foremost that permeates this magnificent piece. The effect is of joyful weeping alternating with austere ritual. When, at 24'18'', the Te Deum heads towards its crowning climax, the drone gradually intensifies, aided by weighty low strings and piano chords. Part slowly transports us aloft through a dark bank of cloud, much as Bruckner does with the first movement coda of his Seventh Symphony. Part's Te Deum sets the standard liturgical text to a wide range of nuances, shades and dynamics; brief string interludes provide heart-rending wordless commentaries, and the work's closing pages provide a serenely moving affirmation of holiness. Although relatively static in its musical narrative, Part's Te Deum is both mesmerizing and enriching, and the performance recorded here could scarcely be bettered.
Both the Te Deum and its programme companions have a number of stylistic characteristics in common; but in terms of texture and proportion they're quite different. Silouans Song (1991), an eloquent study for strings, is as reliant on silence as on sonority. It is again austere and chant-like, although its dramatic interpolations approximate a sort of sacral protest. The brief Magnificat for a cappella choir (1989) positively showers multicoloured resonances? all of them exquisitely realized by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. But the Te Deum's closest rival—in terms of substance and appeal—is surely the 25-minute Berliner Messe (1990–2), which was commissioned by the Ninetieth Catholic Church Convention in Berlin. Here again Part employs the simplest means to achieve the most magical ends: ''Veni Sancte Spiritus'' weaves a luminous thread of melodic activity either side of a constant, mid-voice drone, while the weighted phrases of the Sanctus take breath among seraphic string chords. And how wonderful the gradual darkening of the closing Agnus Dei, where tenors initially answer sopranos and an almost imperceptible mellowing softens the work's final moments.
Beautiful sounds, these—gripping yet remote, communicative yet deeply personal in their contemplative aura. I can't think of any recent liturgical music quite worthy of comparison with the Te Deum, while the all-round standard of presentation—performance, engineering, documentation—serves Part as devotedly as Part serves the Divine Image. Very strongly recommended.'