PÄRT Tabula Rasa. Spiegel im Spiegel (Järvi)
Immutable, austere, impassable – the strength of Arvo Pärt’s music lies in its ability to project an image as powerful and complete as the religious iconography it often seeks to replicate.
This is not music that hinges on sudden shifts and sharp contrasts. However, at its core lies the age-old dichotomy between freedom and control, head and heart – or ‘mathematics … and love’, as Pärt himself put it in last month’s Gramophone feature on this recording. Keeping both elements in check – and in balance with one another – remains key.
The Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova brilliantly manages to tease out these dichotomies on this new recording of Pärt’s works for violin and orchestra. In Fratres, she approaches each variation from a different angle. Sap and rosin fly off the bow in the coruscating arpeggio figurations of the opening chord sequence. Mullova’s skill here is to ratchet up the intensity by gradually imparting weight and purpose to the lowest note in each pattern. Lighter feather-bedding is applied in the fourth variation’s rapid triadic ostinatos, creating an almost symphonic effect. Intensity is maintained throughout the double-stopped variation but the expression never becomes exaggerated. There is no let up – and very little rubato – until Mullova finally eases off during the final ‘flautando’ variation.
Mullova’s instinct is to know when and where to foreground these shifting dichotomies. They gradually dissipate during the two-movement Tabula rasa and dissolve completely by the time we get to Spiegel im Spiegel. Aided in Tabula rasa by the equally impressive Florian Donderer on second violin, the overall shape of the work hinges on maintaining a more or less exact proportional relationship of 1:2 between both movements. Gidon Kremer’s premiere recording of the work (ECM), still a benchmark in many respects, is close at 9'36" and 16'50" respectively. But, at 10'57" and 20'35", Mullova is pretty much bang-on.
Pärt was said to have been very pleased with the way the recording sessions went with Mullova, Paavo Järvi and the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, and one can certainly understand why. Get the mathematics right and the love will take care of itself.