Arvo Pärt – Portrait

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Analekta
WORKS: Summa; Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten; Tabula Rasa; Wallfahrtslied; Mozart-Adagio; Spiegel im Spiegel
PERFORMER: La Pietà/Angèle Dubeau (violin)


Pärt loathes being pigeon-holed as a ‘holy minimalist’, considering the term meaningless.

I’ve always felt ‘essentialist’ might be a better label, if labels we must have: in an era of widespread fussiness and complication (often merely to give the illusion of depth and genuine complexity) Pärt’s ability to take the sparsest material (triads, or a descending minor scale as in Cantus) and transmute it into something rich, sustaining and ineffable, remains impressive and valuable.

All the pieces here inhabit the sound-world Pärt calls tintinnabulum, first revealed in 1976 with Für Alina. Apart from Wallfahrtslied (1984, revised 2001) and Mozart-Adagio (1992, revised 2005) they were composed in the five years following that development, when Pärt was exploring and mapping still-unfamiliar territory. For all their modesty and restraint, they sound as fresh and challenging as ever.

During recording for the BBC Four series Sacred Music, Pärt told Simon Russell Beale, ‘I don’t want to offend anyone, but I have nothing to say to my listeners. I lead a secret dialogue with myself, but not with my audience.’

We are privileged to be able to eavesdrop on that dialogue. However, these interpretations, for all their sensitivity and conviction, reveal nothing new about that inner conversation, nor could you reasonably expect them to. 


This is as useful an introduction to the mainstream of Pärt’s work as any other single disc collection available, and it offers excellent performances and gorgeous sound. Your decision on purchase is likely to depend on the works included on any particular disc. Barry Witherden