Pärt Tabula Rasa

Author: 
Rob Cowan

Pärt Tabula Rasa

  • Fratres
  • Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten
  • Fratres
  • Tabula rasa

The iconic blue, grey and white CD cover has now become a book cover, which, given the original album’s significance, is hardly surprising. Back in 1984 Tabula rasa (blank slate) helped re-educate our ears and throw open the doors of our musical sensibilities to spatial domains that had otherwise been closed to us. Pärt’s near-minimalist “tintinnabulation” (a bell-like style based on a simple triad), his impeccable ear, sense of musical timing and deep spiritual engagement helped alter the way we listened in the late 20th century, cleansed us – or some of us – of the incessant need for musical “busyness”. Far from wearing off, the novelty of Pärt’s austerely meditative style has since become an essential component of our musical lives in the 21st century. If you’re a newcomer, then the weeping cadences of the Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten would be a good place to start, though the two very different versions of Fratres (brothers) will prove equally compelling, the violin option opening to fast, spidery arpeggios played solo by Gidon Kremer, before pianist Keith Jarrett calls a forceful halt and Kremer responds with tactile pizzicatos. The less openly demonstrative version for 12 cellos employs the same beautiful chords underpinned by a gentle, sporadic thudding. And there’s Tabula rasa itself, scored for prepared piano, two solo violins, string quartet and double bass, the seemingly timeless second movement “Silentium” opening to an infinitely strange rising sequence on the piano that sets off a haunting bass drone. Nothing else in 20th-century music is quite like it and while various later recordings have done the piece proud, this finely tensed version by Kremer and Tatjana Grindenko with Alfred Schnittke at the piano and the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra under Saulius Sondeckis is a very definite first choice. The book includes perceptively written contributions from Paul Griffiths and Wolfgang Sandner as well as a very instructive first-ever publication of facsimiles of the manuscripts for Tabula rasa and the Cantus, and beautifully printed study scores of all five works. Even if you think you can’t follow a score, do try, and not just once… start with Tabula rasa’s “Silentium”, where the piano’s very visible punctuation will keep you on course. This extremely handsome production is a worthy tribute to what is without any shadow of a doubt one of the great recordings of the last century.

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