Pärt: Berliner Messe; De profundis; The Beatitudes; Magnificat; Summa
I live in an area that was once a hotbed of Lollardy, so I like to think I have some historical awareness of the paradoxical nature of religious repression. While this led Arvo Pärt and certain of his contemporaries and near-contemporaries to seek the expression of faith via archaic, even atavistic, means, my neighbours’ ancestors were routinely persecuted for pretty much the reverse. Pärt’s fascination with early liturgical singing and its avoidance of complexity (regarded as a noise offensive to God and equated with a heretical aspiration to the divine power of creation) is, as ever, central to the works gathered together here. All are available elsewhere, sometimes in different versions and often coupled with the works of other composers ranging from Byrd to Schoenberg, and I do suspect that the casual listener may appreciate Pärt’s approach rather more in such a context of comparison and contrast. The converted, though, will find little to fault here. The Berliner Messe is itself a typically mutable work, originally for four voices and organ, and subsequently arranged for choir and organ (as heard on the Hyperion disc cited below) and, as here, for choir and strings. Within the cool simplicity, even plainness, of the composition itself, Noel Edison and his forces create a glow of warmth rather than of light, whereas the latter is perhaps the defining quality of Stephen Layton’s recording. Whatever the case, for the usual Naxos fiver there’s really no reason to pass this item up.