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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Arvo Pärt - Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2; Pro & Contra (Paavo Järvi)


Composer: Arvo Pärt
  • (01-03) Pro et contra, concerto for cello and orchestra
  • (04-05) Symphony No. 1, Op. 9 'Polyphonic'
  • (06-08) Collage über B A C H
  • (09) Perpetuum mobile
  • (10-13) Meie aed (Our Garden), cantata for children's choir and orchestra
  • (14-16) Symphony No. 2

Truls Mørk, cello (1-3)
Ellerhein Girl's Choir (10-13)
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra
Paavo Järvi, conductor

Date: 2004
Label: Virgin Classics




Although he writes music in a very different style today, Arvo Pärt was right not to repudiate these early works, difficult though some of them are, for he always has been a gifted composer who knows how to achieve the results he is looking for. The earliest work here, the charming Four Gardens (Meie Aed) for children’s choir and orchestra, is an accessible bit of music described in the notes as an example of “socialist realism”, and I suppose in some sense it is. But what really should we expect of a work for children’s choir? Is Peter and the Wolf a piece of political propaganda simply because it does not take advantage of the latest avant-garde tendencies? It’s charming music, excellently performed, and I suspect for most people that will be sufficient.

The remainder of the music on this disc, though, does indeed belong to the avant-garde (meaning lots of dissonance and noise), most notably the cacophonous Second Symphony–but even here the music is well worth listening to if only for the light that it sheds on Pärt’s later style. Pro et Contra, for cello and orchestra, begins with a plush major chord and then oscillates wildly between consonance, dissonance, and apparent randomness, while the solo cello (the excellent Truls Mork) wanders about like a lost soul in search of a safe haven, sometimes reduced to a frustrated knocking on his instrument rather than playing actual notes.

In short, these are works that make crystal clear Pärt’s ongoing search for stability, for a consistent mode of address–a musical language that he could call his own. The fact that he has found that language does not render the search unworthy of attention. Although most of this music has been recorded previously, it would be difficult to imagine finer performances than these: beautifully played and recorded, and totally committed. Most of this isn’t easy music, but it is meaningful, interesting, and well crafted. If you admire Pärt’s current output you may find these documents of his artistic journey fascinating and well worth your time, even as you come to understand why he felt the need to radically change his mode of utterance to get beyond what he regarded (rightly, I should think) as a stylistic impasse.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday

More reviews:


Arvo Pärt (born 11 September 1935 in Paide, Järva County, Estonia) is an Estonian composer of classical and sacred music. Pärt's music is in part inspired by Gregorian chant. Since the late 1970s, Pärt has worked in a minimalist style that employs his self-invented compositional technique, tintinnabuli. He is considered a pioneer of holy minimalism, along with Henryk Górecki and John Tavener. His most performed works include Fratres (1977), Spiegel im Spiegel (1978), and Für Alina (1976). Pärt has been the most performed living composer in the world for five consecutive years.


Paavo Järvi (born 30 December 1962 in Tallinn, Estonia) is an Estonian conductor, the eldest son of conductor Neeme Järvi. He studied at the Curtis Institute of Music with Max Rudolf and Otto-Werner Mueller, and at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute with Leonard Bernstein. Paavo Järvi served as principal conductor of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra from 2006 to 2014. He is currently the music director of the Orchestre de Paris. Järvi has recorded for such labels as RCA, Deutsche Grammophon, PENTATONE, Telarc, ECM, BIS and Virgin Records, and won a Grammy.


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