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Arvo Pärt: Passio

Helsinki Chamber Choir/Nils Schweckendiek; Jan Lehtola (organ) et al (BIS)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Arvo Pärt
Anni Haapeniemi (oboe), Mikki-Pekka Svala (bassoon), Laura Vikman (violin), Marko Ylönen (cello); Martti Anttila (tenor), Sampo Haapaniemi (baritone); Helsinki Chamber Choir/Nils Schweckendiek; Jan Lehtola (organ)
BIS BIS-2612 (CD/SACD)   71:00 mins


This is the ultimate distillation of Arvo Pärt’s compositional aesthetic. Written in 1982, Passio is an entirely unadorned setting of St John’s account of the Passion. There are no choruses or arias reflecting on the text, and just organ, violin, cello, oboe and bassoon to accompany the small body of singers. Moving syllable-by-syllable, the music recalls medieval chant, though Pärt’s slow-moving, Spartan harmonisation gives the sense of something more austere. Shafts of light periodically break through from the choir, though these actually convey the cruel words of the crowd and bystanders. This may seem uninviting, yet Pärt’s unflinching meditative approach is powerfully compelling.

Helsinki Chamber Choir certainly have the measure of the piece in their new recording. Conductor Nils Schweckendiek is unafraid to allow space around the music, with some daringly long pauses after the words of Jesus. These are proclaimed by baritone Sampo Haapaniemi with an icon’s mesmerising absence of superficial emotion. Aside from a few strained high tenor notes it is sung with assurance. There is a shade more warmth than other versions, slightly softening the ascetic effect. Nonetheless, there is no suggestion of gilding the hair shirt and the conclusion’s sudden radiance is suitably resplendent.


Christopher Dingle