Pärt Orient and Occident
This programme represents a retreat from the remote cloister where for so long Arvo Pärt invited us to join him‚ a definite shift from the aerated tintinabuli. The purity remains‚ so do the spare textures and‚ to a limited extent‚ earlier stylistic traits. Pärt’s voice is always recognisable. And yet who‚ years ago‚ could have anticipated the tempered tumult that erupts in the third movement of Como cierva sedienta‚ a halfhour choral drama commissioned by the Festival de Mœsica de Canarias and premièred in Tenerife in 1999?
I remember hearing an imperfect taped copy of that first performance‚ which both fascinated and perplexed me‚ but this new recording subscribes to ECM’s welltried aesthetic where clarity‚ finetipped detail and carefully gauged perspectives are familiar priorities. The texts come from the 42nd and 43rd Psalms‚ opening with ‘As the hart panteth…’ (Psalm 42). Even in the first few seconds‚ after chorus and bell have registered‚ vivid instrumental colour signals a fresh departure. It’s almost as if Pärt is relishing textures previously denied him‚ like a penitent released from fasting. Take the second movement‚ ‘Why art thou cast down‚ my soul?’‚ which opens among lower strings then switches to tactile pizzicati and woodwinds that are almost Tchaikovskian in their postClassical delicacy. At 2'36" an unexpected upwards harp glissando cues a rhythmically driven affirmation of praise. The descent from flutes‚ down to bass clarinet and finally bassoon that closes the piece is a really imaginative touch. That aforementioned ‘eruption’ occurs at 1'42" into the next movement‚ with its fearsome waterspouts and billowing waves‚ its bass drum‚ brass‚ bell‚ swirling winds and cymbal spray. The long closing section is pensive but conclusive: a dramatic opening‚ drum taps that recall Shostakovich 11‚ expressively varied instrumental commentary‚ quiet string chords later on and a closing episode filled with equivocal tranquillity.
The two shorter works are also significant. Wallfahrtslied (1984‚ ‘Song of Pilgrimage’)‚ a memorial to a friend‚ is presented in the revised version for strings and men’s choir. Again Pärt engages a lyrical muse‚ particularly for the emotionally weighted prelude and postlude whereas the accompaniment to the main text (Psalm 121‚ ‘I lift up mine eyes unto the hills…’)‚ a combination of pizzicato and shuddering bowed phrases‚ suggests a lament tinged with anger.
The sevenminute string piece Orient and Occident is barely two years old‚ and has ‘a monophonic line which runs resolutely through [it]’‚ to quote Pärt’s wife‚ Nora. Snakelike oriental gestures‚ coiled with prominent portamenti (the sort used by Indian orchestras) sound like an Eastern variant of Pärt’s earlier string works. ‘With perfect consistency‚ like links in a chain‚’ writes Nora‚ ‘tiny contrasting musical segments […] converge‚ yet produce a gently flowing stream of music.’ I’ll certainly buy that‚ but the choral pieces are the prime reasons for investing in this exceptional and musically important release.