Meurig Bowen’s notes observe that choral pieces composed a decade ago (and featured by Polyphony on an earlier Hyperion release, 8/98) suggested Pärt was moving into ‘more complex, exotic harmonic territory’. I recall concluding a review of Paul Hillier’s recital of 1990s works (Harmonia Mundi, 4/00) by commenting that the unusually lush-sounding revised Berliner Messe, the busy melody and cadences of True Vine and the full, soft textures of Woman With the Alabaster Box and Tribute to Caesar, gave a glimpse of ‘an attractively post-Minimalist aspect’ of the composer’s recent work. All rather premature, perhaps, since, as Bowen acknowledges, Pärt subsequently returned to a more strictly diatonic, triadic approach.
Even so, the staccato, carol-like episodes bracketing Dopo La Vittoria, commissioned in 1991 and delivered in 1997, come as a shock, but the bulk of the piece is more recognisably by Pärt and the Nunc Dimittis, with its lovely, lambent solo part for soprano Elin Thomas, evoking Allegri’s Miserere, assuages all doubts. The idea of Pärt setting Burns might re-elevate an eyebrow or two, but My heart’s in the Highlands, with its serene, Pachelbel-like organ line and pellucid vocal by countertenor David James, is a triumph. In the hymn-like Littlemore Tractus and Salve Regina, warm melodies and bursts of colourful chords mellow Pärt’s sound without detracting from its sublime, ethereal beauty.
One discographical nit-pick: all but Son of and True Vine are shown as première recordings, but Triodion is already available on Claudio in a commendable 1998 recording by the Choir of Lancing College. (This might be a variant version, but I’ve not had time to compare.) No matter, Polyphony’s is a gorgeous performance whatever.