WORKS: Litany; Psalom; Trisagion
PERFORMER: Hilliard Ensemble, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Tallinn CO/Tõnu Kaljuste, Lithuanian CO/Saulius Sondeckis
CATALOGUE NO: 449 810-2
As other record companies jump on the Pärt bandwagon, ECM reminds us who was the original purveyor of the Baltic bard, with this stunning disc of premiere recordings. In Litany, the composer has moved on from the repetitions of Tabula rasa, the stasis of Passio and De profondis and reinvented a truly Baroque liturgical drama. While the quartet of solo voices intone short prayers of St John Chrysostom for each hour of the day and night, orchestra and chorus move forward in urgent accompaniment, creating a colourful theatre of sound. The timpani’s uneven heartbeat is taken up as a rocking, falling second motif by small choirs of instruments and voices widely spaced in dynamic, pitch and timbre. The daylight prayers are punctuated by lean, silvery trumpet calls, while the night hours open with a veiled, distanced sound, gradually clearing to brightness as the dawn breaks.
This is music that requires an absolute technical purity, and the soloists, Tallinn choir and orchestra excel themselves. Words (in English) are crystal clear, which does much to make Litany a truly functional act of prayer: I would like to have experienced it in its intended setting.
Psalom is a delicate questioning of two chords by pianissimo strings, while the Trisagion harks back to earlier, simpler works but is distinguished by its opening, written in such a way that a steady Adagio gathers a strange, elliptical swing, reminiscent of a wave’s undertow. Helen Wallace