Pärt Symphonies Nos 1-4
NFM Wrocław Philharmonic/Tõnu Kaljuste
ECM 4816802 77:22 mins
The first four symphonies of Arvo Pärt, written over the course of 44 years, are presented together here for the first time via ECM, an enterprising label that has recorded much of the composer’s work. For any artist, such a survey often reveals twists and turns in stylistic development, but for Pärt the comparison is particularly striking, especially when listening to the work in chronological order, as here. The First Symphony (1964) reflects Pärt’s fascination with serialism and his burgeoning interest in juxtaposing 20th century and Baroque techniques. The work is split into two movements – ‘Canon’ and ‘Prelude and Fugue’ – and centres around a 12-tone system. The rows are used contrapuntally, overlaid with rhythmic patterns that add to the sense of growing unease. The NFM Wrocław Philharmonic, led by Tõnu Kaljuste, propel the music onward, drawing a shape from the swirling sonic mass.
The Second Symphony (1966), like the First, relies on the 12-note method, but it feels less restrained. The Third (1971) was written just before Pärt entered his well-known compositional sabbatical, during which he studied meditation and religion. Subsequent works – including the second couplet of symphonies – are far more melodic, referencing the Renaissance aesthetic via Pärt’s triad-based compositional style, tintinnabuli. The Fourth (2008) owes as much to silence as it does to sound – a reality neatly observed by Kaljuste.