Part: Stabat mater; Summa; Fratres; Es sang vor langen Jahren; Psalom

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Part
LABELS: ATMA
WORKS: Stabat mater; Summa; Fratres; Es sang vor langen Jahren; Psalom
PERFORMER: Daniel Taylor (countertenor); Montreal Studio for Ancient Music/Christopher Jackson, Franz Joseph Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: ACD 2 2310
And so the Pärt discography grows – perhaps not as quickly as John Tavener’s, but a 60th birthday this year has provided extra thrust on that front. And Pärt is 70 next year… All of the repertoire here is post-1976, white-note Pärt, except the remarkable, genre-bending 1964 Collage and, on Black Box, the premiere recording of two Piano Sonatinas, Op. 1 – compact essays in Soviet obeisance to Prokofiev and Shostakovich which appear, clunkingly (intriguingly?), between tintinnabulist works like a concrete tower block alongside lofty perpendicular Gothic. In pieces like Fratres and the Britten Cantus, Spivakov’s Moscow Virtuosi achieve well that icy, vibrato-light string sound so essential to atmospheric, illuminating Pärt performances. The Berlin Mass, teamed with a Russian choir, is far less convincing. There are moments of sloppy ensemble, the well-built choral sound overblows in the bass department and the indulgent, unstable tempi suggest a lack of empathy with that elusive thing, the Pärt sensibility. Questionable, and impairing of the musical flow, is the inclusion of double pairs of Alleluia verses, for both Christmas and Pentecost. Pärt’s Nunc dimittis was commissioned in 2001 by St Mary’s Cathedral Choir in Edinburgh, and it’s nice that it gets paired on Black Box for the first time with the 1989 Magnificat. The soft-grained, Edinburgh choral sound is accomplished in itself, but when put up against Polyphony (Hyperion) or Tonu Kaljuste’s Estonians on ECM, the colours are paler, the contrasts less striking, the sonorities less vibrant. Paradoxically, the Stabat mater here lacks the rapt restraint of Fretwork and the Taverner Consort (Virgin) or Hilliards, Kremer et al on ECM. In a dryish acoustic, with unaligned vibrato speeds among the three of them, and with Helen Meyerhoff and John Bowley not a match in the balance for Stephen Wallace’s highly fruity countertenor, this is a Stabat mater to which I would not wish to return. If you already have the composer-endorsed recordings by the Hilliards, Estonians and Polyphony, only the French-Canadian disc enhances the picture. Unlike the Black Box release, its performance-repertoire mix has a unified cogency, and it is beautifully recorded in the evidently beautiful acoustic of a Montreal seminary chapel. The period-instrument Franz Joseph Quartet is the undoubted highlight – wonderfully attuned to the music and as close to a viol consort in its mellow, restrained sonority as you’ll ever hear. The Stabat mater – hybrid in its combination of violin and viols – questionably uses choral rather than solo voices and perhaps succumbs to lugubriousness at times (it’s around 20 per cent slower than other versions). But out of the three, this is the disc that gets under the skin, and I think the notoriously fastidious composer would agree. Meurig Bowen

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