The perfect Pärt primer

A special edition release of the works that brought Pärt to the world's attention is a must for devotees and new fans alike

Composer: Pärt
Repertoire: Fratres; Tabula Rasa; Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten
Artists: Gidon Kremer (vln), Tatjana Gridenko (vln), Keith Jarrett (pf), Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic, Stuttgart State Orchestra/Dennis Russell Davies and Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra/Saulius Sondeckis Book & Cd  
Rating:  3/5
Genre: Orchestral/Chamber
Label: ECM New Series UE 35 222

The Music: These are the works that put Arvo Pärt on the map in 1984, introducing a then-new but now-familar sound world. Simple chord progressions and harmonic relationships are explored to the point of hypnotism in Fratres; the double violin concerto Tabula Rasa (‘clean slate’) was a manifesto for discovering new musical depths through a return to simplicity of both harmony and instrumental ‘counterpoint’. The Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten is a deeply effecting eulogy for strings and tubular bells; another piece that has tremendous cumulative power. 

The Performance: The ‘original’ performers Gidon Kremer and Keith Jarrett remain unsurpassed in the violin/piano version of Fratres, as do the Berlin Phil’s players in the version for twelve cellos. Whether you notice it or not, it’s the architecture of the pieces that make them powerful and those artists have the measure of it. The Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten has had more subtle, less smudged recordings recently, as has Tabula Rasa, which includes an inordinate amount of background noise for all its technical excellence. 

The Verdict: This special edition release contains the facsimile manuscripts for the Cantus and Tabula, study scores of all the works, a readable and poignant introduction by Paul Griffiths and the original programme note by Wolfgang Sandner. Together with these ‘original’ recordings, it’s a must for Pärt devotees but also a perfect primer. 

Want More? Try Pärt’s Lamentate, written for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, also on ECM (476 3048).