Cappella Amsterdam performs Kanon Pokajanen by Arvo Part

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Arvo Pärt
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Pärt
WORKS: Kanon Pokajanen
PERFORMER: Cappella Amsterdam/Daniel Reuss
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 905274

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This excellent recording of Arvo Pärt’s Kanon Pokajanen shows exactly why his often slow-moving, stylistically austere music has developed such a strong, devoted audience. Its effect is cumulatively that of a ritual, and following the booklet translation of the Slavonic text is crucial: it helps underline the subtleties of Pärt’s response to Andrew of Crete’s supplicatory odes on personal sinfulness and the need for repentance, which are less obvious if you just listen.

While fully respecting Kanon Pokajanen’s status as an extended, unrushed meditation, conductor Daniel Reuss nonetheless finds tempos that fluidly lead the listener forward, lightly riding the pulses and rhythms of Pärt’s extremely precise word-setting, and achieving beautifully sifted interactions among Cappella Amsterdam’s 29 singers.

Odes 5 and 7 are omitted in Reuss’s performance to keep it on a single CD, apparently with Pärt’s approval. Completists may therefore wish to stick with ECM’s complete version on two discs with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. But in every other way I find the Amsterdam recording preferable: it has more detailed inflections, cleaner ensemble, and a less resonant acoustic, enhancing the feeling of intimacy and self-communing which makes Kanon Pokajanen such an absorbing listening experience.

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Terry Blain