Part: I am the True Vine; Berlin Mass; Bogoróditse Djévo

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COMPOSERS: Part
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: I am the True Vine; Berlin Mass; Bogoróditse Djévo
PERFORMER: Theatre of Voices, Pro Arte Singers/Paul Hillier; Christopher Bowers-Broadbent (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907242

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The tiny Bogoróditse Djévo (Rejoice, Mother of God) which opens this disc shows Arvo Pärt at his best. Only just over a minute long, it is an exquisite vindication of the idea of maximum effect with minimum means – the gift to be simple. After this come three settings of Gospel texts in English. And here there’s a problem: unlike Latin, German and Old Slavonic, which Pärt has set most frequently, English is full of monosyllables; it doesn’t lend itself easily to the flowing melodies which typify Pärt’s choral work. Instead he tries drawing out whole phrases, but the effect is bizarre – like a kind of jerky slow-motion. The Berlin Mass – recorded here in the original version with organ instead of strings – is much more successful: again simple but haunting, echoing medieval church music and Stravinsky’s austere Mass but quite different in its effect. The singing is glorious. The Pro Arte singers squeeze as much music as they can out of the English settings, and revel in the chaste beauty of Bogoróditse Djévo. It’s hard to imagine a more effective performance of the Berlin Mass than that given by the four soloists of Theatre of Voices – eloquent but contained. In the end, a curate’s egg of a disc – but the good parts are rewarding enough. Stephen Johnson