Arvo Pärt: Choral Works (CD Review - Gramophone Magazine, 2014)

Gramophone Editor's Choice - October 2014

It should be said, before anyone has the chance to object to the appearance of yet another disc of Pärt’s choral music, that this one is something special. In part this is because of the choice of repertoire, which mixes the familiar and the less-often heard, and includes two first recordings, and in part it is because of the exquisite sound produced by Polyphony.

The lesser-known pieces include Peace upon you, Jerusalem and Morning star, here given outstanding renditions that exploit the ensemble’s crystalline upper voices to perfection. Another of Polyphony’s strengths is their diction, and this is more than evident in their beautifully fluid and very moving renditions of the highly text-driven The woman with the alabaster box and Tribute to Caesar. Pärt’s setting of the Lorica of St Patrick, entitled The deer’s cry, is also text-driven but in a very different way, and what appears initially to be merely eccentric proves to be an extraordinarily profound and rich response to the words.

The hypnotic Virgencita, a prayer to the Virgin of Guadalupe in Spanish, is altogether more curious – the melodic line of the first section irresistibly suggests a slowed-down tango – but its conclusion, the final iteration of ‘Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe’ is surely one of the composer’s most arresting conceptions. The other first recording is of the oddly titled Alleluia-Tropus. This is in fact a setting of the apolytikion to St Nicholas set in Slavonic, with the addition of the word ‘Alleluia’, meaning that it is not usable liturgically, and it was originally scored for choir and eight cellos. It’s as curious as Virgencita but has a similarly stunning climax. The disc ends with a wonderful rendition of Da pacem, Domine. Highly recommended.

Ivan Moody

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