PÄRT Organ and Choral Music
This highly impressive disc features a selection of Pärt’s choral music and his complete output for organ, somewhat oddly programmed in two groups rather than in alternation. What makes the recording special is the full-throated sound of the choir, featuring both boy and girl trebles, captured in the spacious acoustics of Leeds Cathedral itself. This means that the composer’s work here acquires a clearly liturgical dimension (something frequently implicit in his music but not always evident in recordings by concert choirs), and the sound of the trebles plays no small part in this. Pärt’s beautiful setting of The Beatitudes, dating from 1990, opens the disc, and it is followed by the Berliner Messe from the same year, which benefits particularly from the choir’s understanding of the music’s liturgical context and Benjamin Saunders’s fluid shaping of it. A sprightly performance of the early Cantate Domino follows, and again, the sound of the choir suggests another association, this time with Christmas carols, something that has certainly never occurred to this reviewer before.
The organist accompanying the choral works is Daniel Justin; the solo organ pieces are played by Thomas Leech, who has a clear empathy for the composer’s frequently somewhat idiosyncratic writing for the instrument; as the anonymous booklet-notes eloquently observe, these works ‘explore [exploit?] the instrument’s capacity for stasis and to extract meaning from minimal resources – expressive states so much organ repertoire attempts to cover at all costs’. Such is certainly an apt description for the substantial Annum per annum, whose length makes maintaining a sense of musical narrative a real challenge. The same can be said too for Leech’s outstanding performance of the somewhat impenetrable Mein Weg hat Gipfel und Wellentäler.
Pärt would no doubt be surprised to learn of his ‘deep Catholicism’ as the notes have it, since he is a Russian Orthodox believer, but I have no doubt that these performances, stemming as they do from a living Roman Catholic liturgical context, would meet with his unqualified approval.