Arvo Pärt Adam's Lament
ECM-owner Manfred Eicher’s love of Pärt’s music is shared by many record-buyers and concert-goers. It’s at least as much for the works’ pellucid sound and simple yet sumptuous textures as for their serenity and evident spiritual assurance in an age of uncertainty. In these ravishing performances (recorded under Pärt’s supervision, as is customary with ECM) those characteristics are as strong as ever, yet these choral pieces, either written or revised since 2006, carry an additional emotional clout thanks to an element of unease and tension.
Adam’s Lament was commissioned by Tallinn and Istanbul, the European Cultural Capitals in 2010 and 2011. On 7 June 2010, a day of torrential rain, it was premiered in the Hagia Irene, an ancient Byzantine church in Istanbul. It is a setting of a text by Staretz Silouan, holy man from Mount Athos, which ends ‘I have lost grace and call with Adam, “Be merciful, O Lord”.’ Pärt says he tried to internalise these words, ‘full of deepest pain, a desperate cry to God’.
This comment seems to illumine the direction his music has taken lately. For some four decades Pärt’s music seemed set in an aspic of perfection: predominantly calm and quietly confident. Then, ten years ago, it began to exhibit some rather unsettling traits, as if Pärt felt anxiety, if not doubt, about his faith, though it was more likely an urgency about how much time was left to him as he approached his 70s. Either way, the fall and guilt of Adam (who, for Pärt, represents Humanity collectively and severally, standing for ‘each individual, regardless of time, era, social class or religious affiliation’) links with the music’s potent clash of encroaching despair and devout expectations. And, musically, Adam’s Lament serves as a summary of Pärt’s evolution since he abandoned his Modernist tendencies: echoes of his tintinnabulist method emerge, the disquiet of recent works is present, and it’s all enveloped in his characteristic musical language, informed by a tradition stretching back at least a millennium. The Radio Choir and Vox Clamantis affectingly convey anguished hopes for redemption while maintaining a pure, beautifully-balanced sound that evokes Pärt’s underlying beliefs.
After fine, affecting performances by all ensembles of the more intense pieces, two light-footed lullabies, sung sweetly but never cloyingly by the Chamber Choir, leave us with some sense of comfort.