Part: Tabula rasa; Collage über BACH; Symphony No. 3

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Tabula rasa; Collage über BACH; Symphony No. 3
PERFORMER: Leslie Hatfield, Rebecca Hirsch (violin); Ulster Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554591


These three works chart Arvo Pärt’s trajectory from wild man of the Soviet avant-garde to his present eminence as a leading practitioner – perhaps the best – of euphonious, slowly unfolding holy minimalism. Yet there is no sense of quietus achieved: all three works strike me as deeply disturbed and alienated. Collage über BACH, from the serial Sixties, juxtaposes styles and harmonies, cluster-chords and stabbing ostinati against serene Bach quotations that are then distorted. The strange Third Symphony, largely based on Gregorian chant, cycles baleful and chunkily-orchestrated plainsong fragments and neo-medieval polyphony, like a kind of faux-primitive Estonian equivalent to Anthony Milner’s Orchestra Variations. In the best-known piece, the double violin concerto Tabula rasa, Pärt’s distinctive minimalist ‘tintinnabular’ techniques are firmly in place. The first movement, cutting up Baroque formulae to create a surrealist version of a Vivaldian concerto grosso, introduces the long ‘Silentium’ finale with its glacially unwinding mensuration canons. This is music of extraordinary, haunting beauty, yet there’s something almost masochistic in the way its numbed passivity engenders a sense of frozen lament, of exquisite hopelessness. If the performance of the Collage is less brilliant and colourful than the Moscow Virtuosi (RCA), and Tabula rasa is about as good as, but no better than, the EMI version featuring Tasmin Little and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, still I know of no current rival in the Symphony. All in all this is a very useful coupling of three remarkable works in thoroughly sympathetic performances and decent sound. Calum MacDonald