Pärt: Für Alina; Spiegel im Spiegel

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COMPOSERS: Arvo Pärt
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Für Alina; Spiegel im Spiegel
PERFORMER: Vladimir Spivakov (violin), Sergei Bezrodny, Alexander Malter (piano), Dietmar Schwalke (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 449 958-2

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An Arvo Pärt ‘concept album’ had to happen sooner or later, I suppose, but this new ECM release at least does it with good taste and manages to raise some interesting issues about the composer’s pared-down, transparent music.

On it, three performances of his 1978 Spiegel im Spiegel – the first and third for violin and piano, the second for cello and piano – are separated by two sections from pianist Alexander Malter’s ‘several-hour’ improvisation on Pärt’s tiny 1976 piano piece Für Alina in an overall structure whose self-referentiality seems an act of composition in itself. But what saves the disc from self-indulgence are the immaculate performances: Vladimir Spivakov, particularly, is breathtaking in his two performances of Spiegel im Spiegel, his control of tone and carefully considered use of vibrato adding greatly to the poignancy of the music.

Dietmar Schwalke and Alexander Malter, however, take the piece at a rather faster tempo, unavoidably changing the character of the music utterly. Malter’s Für Alina improvisations raise several questions without providing satisfactory answers – do we ever hear the piece in its original form? does this matter? how do we reconcile these free improvisations with Pärt’s strict control of form? – but the ringing tones of his crystal-clear performance, and especially the fading resonances of his chiming notes, are often overwhelmingly beautiful.

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David Kettle