Pärt from Mullova and Järvi

Forty years after he wrote his two-movement Tabula Rasa for violinist Gidon Kremer, Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, 83, is still alive, engaged and composing. Hence it should come as no surprise that when violinist Viktoria Mullova and conductor Paavo Järvi contacted Pärt about their plan to record five of his works for violin and various instruments for their Onyx album, Arvo Pärt, the conductor attended the recording sessions. According to Gramophone's Andrew Mellor, Pärt actively engaged with Mullova and individual players of the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra to ensure that his dynamic markings were observed, and that each instrument evoked the timbre and atmosphere essential to fully realizing his music.

Auditioned in 24/48 from HDTracks, three pieces on the recording—Tabula Rasa (1977), Fratres (1991) and Spiegel im Spiegel (1978)—brought Pärt great acclaim after Kremer recorded them for ECM New Series. Here, many decades later, we have Pärt's mature thoughts on these major works.

Everything on the program is in Pärt's mesmerizing "tintinnabuli" style, which was inspired by medieval church music and Gregorian chant. As the composer once explained, "I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements—with one voice, two voices. I build with primitive materials—with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells and that is why I call it tintinnabulation."

For readers who have not heard Pärt's music, allowing oneself to be enveloped by his sound world is akin to entering an altered state. Time moves slowly, with each note and each stroke of Mullova's bow on the strings of her Stradivarius transforming into a precious moment in time.

Although Pärt's music may be slow, repetitive, and sparsely scored, it would be a grave mis-service to toss it in the "New Age" hopper. Here is music of a man who, after serving in the military and being educated at Tallinn Conservatory, was heavily criticized for incorporating serial music techniques (aka atonalism) in one of his early works. Although Pärt in no way suffered as much as Shostakovich for sticking to his music truth—he even managed to convert to orthodox Catholicism—his continual clashes with Soviet officials finally led to permission for him to emigrate with his family to Vienna and then Berlin in 1980.

In Pärt's music, the suffering and pain, as well as the faith that held the Estonian people together through more than a half century of Soviet control, is every in evidence. It is the tension between despair and hope, in fact, that gives much of his music life. In this respect, Mullova, who defected from the former Soviet Union with her lover in 1983, is an ideal interpreter of Pärt's music. As when it weeps, when it grows animated and vehement, she gets it, and translates those feelings into sound.

Taken in order of appearance on the disc, the under three-minute opening work, "Darf ich . . ." (May I . . . ) for violin, bells & strings (1995/99), is mournful with a heightened sense of pain. Fratres goes even deeper. Every percussion stroke is haunting, and the suffering and dread that envelop you as the music grows increasingly hushed are unforgettable. Mullova's extremely high, miraculously sounded repeated closing notes are breathtaking.

The two-part Tabula Rasa, by far the longest work on the program, confounds expectations. After the wildness of its first movement, you may not expect the "Silentium" that follows. The most recently composed work, the short Passacaglia (2003), may sound a bit like a fractured baroque exercise, but the heart-tugging delicacy and beauty of Spiegel im Spiegel are like nothing you've ever heard. As I listened to this indescribably beautiful music, I kept imagining the feel of individual snow petals falling on a pristine landscape It joins the soprano solo from Brahms's German Requiem and Schubert's lied, "Du bist die Ruh," as amongst the most hallowed pieces I've ever heard.

volvic's picture

I cannot imagine there is anyone out there who loves symphonic music or any other music, who hasn't heard it in some form or another. I knew of this project, guess it's done, time to pull out the credit card and get it even though I own all of the performances played through Kremer, Shahan etc. But it's such beautiful music that it deserves even more interpretations than currently in the catalogue.

tenorman's picture

Great review Jason . Indeed , this is wonderful music . I will listen to this recording often

Woman Izer's picture

Auto-correct typo?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

You are correct. My face is red, and the Apple's is even redder.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Hibiscus Rosa ........

Santa Rosa .........