Arvo Pärt: Stabat Mater; Nunc dimittis; Magnificat; The Woman With The Alabaster Box; Da pacem Domine; Pēteris Vasks: Plainscapes; James MacMillan: Miserere
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge; The Dmitri Ensemble/Graham Ross
Harmonia Mundi HMM 905323 79:04 mins
Familiarity does not always breed contempt. These modern classics may already have several recordings, but there is nothing hackneyed about their combination on this new disc from the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge. Arvo Pärt’s music predominates, culminating in an enrapturing performance of his Stabat Mater. Graham Ross judges the spacious juxtapositions of movement and silence exquisitely, the Dmitri Ensemble’s explosion of energy in the third interlude being simultaneously surprising yet entirely natural.
Four of Pärt’s shorter unaccompanied motets pave the way, interspersed with a spine-tingling and heartfelt account of MacMillan’s enthralling Miserere and Vasks’s Plainscapes. The latter is an extraordinary wordless sonic portrait of the Latvian flatlands, in which the slow-moving choir act like a resonance chamber for mesmerising violin and cello skitterings and curlicues, provided here by Jamie Campbell and Oliver Coates.
It is brave to open the disc with Pärt’s Da pacem Domine, one of those superficially simple pieces that actually places technique under a harsh microscope. The vast Lady Chapel at Ely Cathedral softens the occasional slight smudge of intonation with a glowing halo of resonance. Nonetheless, it does not mask the uncharacteristic strain in the men’s voices as they take on the voice of Jesus in an otherwise alluring performance of The Woman with the Alabaster Box. Such moments are rare, though, the overall impression being of exquisitely beautiful voices floating apparently effortlessly, the opening of Pärt’s Nunc Dimittis seemingly emerging from the ether.