Pärt: Da Pacem Domine; Salve Regina; Zwei slawische Psalmen; Dopo la vittoria; An den Wassern zu Babel; Nunc dimittis; Littlemore Tractus
No living composer has done more to rehabilitate the idea of eloquent simplicity than Arvo Pärt. At his finest, he can help the jaded modern ear rediscover the joy of a single well-placed chord or a tiny two-note phrase. The effect can be as touching as a children’s song, and yet seeming naivety often masks sophisticated thinking: in the words of the ancient saying, ‘the art is to conceal the art’. Sometimes, though, his simplicity becomes baffling. That, for me, is the effect of two Psalm settings recorded here: there may be meaning for the composer, but it doesn’t communicate itself easily, despite the beauty of the singing. But why complain when so much of the music recorded here does work? The echo effects in Dopo la vittoria help turn a plain narrative text (the story of how the ‘Te Deum’ hymn was composed) into a magical meditation. The almost pointillist dwelling on only the vowel sounds of ‘Kyrie eleison’ in An den Wassern zu Babel becomes inexplicably compelling. Pure modal harmonies acquire an almost Wagnerian lusciousness in the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis. The Estonian Chamber Choir under Paul Hillier sings everything with near miraculous precision and delicate dedication, and they are, on the whole, effectively recorded. One can’t help feeling the acoustic comes close to overloading at the climax of Salva Regina; otherwise it’s an aural delight.