Part: Symphony No 4

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WORKS: Symphony No. 4 (Los Angeles); Kanon pokajanen – fragments
PERFORMER: Los Angeles PO/Esa-Pekka Salonen; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir/Tõnu Kaljuste


Thirty-seven years passed between Pärt’s Third and Fourth Symphonies. This period encompassed one of his spells of apparent non-activity and ended when he unveiled his tintinnabulist style in 1976. His music seemed as divorced and distant from the mainstream symphonic tradition as you could imagine until, around the turn of the millennium, its calm surface showed signs of being somewhat troubled and its apparent confidence and serenity began to seem a little like whistling in the dark.

An encounter with Anish Kapoor’s sculpture, Marsyas, made Pärt confront his own mortality and he resolved to make the best of his remaining time. Now, marking his 75th birthday, ECM has issued this recording of the world premiere of the Fourth symphony, which took place on 9 January 2009 at the Walt Disney Hall, Los Angeles. Engineer and co-producer Fred Vogler has captured the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s pellucid string tones and achieved the ECM sound away from the label’s regular studios.


The Symphony’s three slow movements are scored for strings, harp and percussion. Pärt is one of the very few composers who can draw such richness from spare materials, or use percussion with such subtlety. In this symphony (which has absorbed the 2008 piece, These Words) he questions the music’s harmonic stability with suspensions and creates tension in the finale by splitting the orchestra between A minor and A major. The disc is filled out with fragments from the 1997 recording of Kanon Pokajanen. Barry Witherden