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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Arvo Pärt - Triodion & other choral works (Stephen Layton)


Composer: Arvo Pärt
  1. Dopo la vittoria
  2. Nunc dimittis
  3. ... which was the Son of ...
  4. I am the true vine
  5. Littlemore Tractus
  6. Triodion
  7. My heart's in the Highlands
  8. Salve Regina

Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, organ (5, 7 & 8)
David James, countertenor (7)
Stephen Layton, conductor

Date: 2003
Label: Hyperion



Polyphony find a warmth and colour in Pärt that even his admirers may be surprised by

Meurig Bowen’s notes observe that choral pieces composed a decade ago (and featured by Polyphony on an earlier Hyperion release, 8/98) suggested Pärt was moving into ‘more complex, exotic harmonic territory’. I recall concluding a review of Paul Hillier’s recital of 1990s works (Harmonia Mundi, 4/00) by commenting that the unusually lush-sounding revised Berliner Messe, the busy melody and cadences of True Vine and the full, soft textures of Woman With the Alabaster Box and Tribute to Caesar, gave a glimpse of ‘an attractively post-Minimalist aspect’ of the composer’s recent work. All rather premature, perhaps, since, as Bowen acknowledges, Pärt subsequently returned to a more strictly diatonic, triadic approach.

Even so, the staccato, carol-like episodes bracketing Dopo La Vittoria, commissioned in 1991 and delivered in 1997, come as a shock, but the bulk of the piece is more recognisably by Pärt and the Nunc Dimittis, with its lovely, lambent solo part for soprano Elin Thomas, evoking Allegri’s Miserere, assuages all doubts. The idea of Pärt setting Burns might re-elevate an eyebrow or two, but My heart’s in the Highlands, with its serene, Pachelbel-like organ line and pellucid vocal by countertenor David James, is a triumph. In the hymn-like Littlemore Tractus and Salve Regina, warm melodies and bursts of colourful chords mellow Pärt’s sound without detracting from its sublime, ethereal beauty.

One discographical nit-pick: all but Son of and True Vine are shown as première recordings, but Triodion is already available on Claudio in a commendable 1998 recording by the Choir of Lancing College. (This might be a variant version, but I’ve not had time to compare.) No matter, Polyphony’s is a gorgeous performance whatever.

-- Barry Witherden, Gramophone

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: ***** / SOUND: *****


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.


Stephen Layton (born 23 December 1966) is an English conductor. He studied at Eton College, and then King's College, Cambridge as an organ scholar under Stephen Cleobury. Whilst studying at Cambridge, Layton founded the mixed-voice choir Polyphony in 1986. Layton has been Second Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the City of London Sinfonia since 2010. Layton’s discography on Hyperion ranges from Handel and Bach with original instruments to Arvo Pärt. He has received awards such as two Gramophone Awards, Diapason d’Or and four Grammy nominations.


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