WORKS: Te Deum; Silouans Song; Magnificat; Berliner Messe
PERFORMER: Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Tallinn CO/Tõnu Kaljuste
CATALOGUE NO: 439 162-2 DDD
I found Pärt’s repetitive, half-hour Te Deum for chorus and string-dominated chamber orchestra tedious and even banal when it was new. His style derives much of its individuality from largely ignoring Western music after Bach, picking up the thread again with Stravinsky. Occasionally, though, and increasingly in the mid-Eighties (when the Te Deum was written), the composer dips into the spices of the intervening century and a half, or more. The danger of bathos looms.
While that threat still hangs over all the works on this disc, of which the Te Deum is the earliest, I now think I was overreacting. Pärt manages the balancing act extremely adeptly, and the results retain the subtlety without ever becoming either overblown or precious. The Berliner Messe, in the orchestral version completed in 1992, is almost as impressive, as well as almost as long, as the Te Deum (which gives this CD its title); the short, unaccompanied Magnificat is a particularly special case of understatement, while the even shorter Silouans Song is a mournful chorale for strings alone.
But it is the Te Deum itself, with its masterly control of pace and texture (despite the textual repetitions), which lingers longest in the memory, especially in a performance as carefully prepared and unbombastic as this. Like the rest, it was recorded, most sensitively, by Estonian forces in Finland. Maybe that earlier, rather Victorian, performance itself was to blame. Keith Potter