PÄRT Symphony No 4
Nobody, I think, would have predicted a Symphony from Arvo Pärt nearly 40 years after his last one. But since No 3 he has developed a vocabulary of a singular intensity and cohesion, which is something he was grasping for, and not quite finding, while still in his native Estonia in 1971. That vocabulary has been established by means of an extended series of choral works, linked ever more clearly with his Orthodox faith but employing an ever-expanding range of musical and linguistic colour. That confidence – evinced most clearly, perhaps, and most recently in the majestic Kanon Pokajanen, fragments of which complement the new Symphony – has transferred itself in no uncertain terms to his instrumental work.
There has probably never been a symphony like this, though one can in some way imagine Bruckner approving of it, and it has a precedent in La Sindone from 2006. Inspired by the Canon to the Guardian Angel (an Orthodox devotional text), it harks back to a Bachian pre-tintinnabuli history, but with the slow lushness characteristic of the composer’s recent work. I find it difficult to comment on the work structurally, so much of a continuous stream is it, but it is important precisely to emphasise the astonishing feeling for that very continuity that the LAPO under Salonen clearly has. The sheer beauty of the sound – and the silence – also does not escape them (I wonder if there is any orchestra on the planet that can make pizzicatos sound as sensuous as this?), but that is also part of the work’s never-ending line. Repeated listening brings great rewards: this is a true symphony for the 21st century.