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Elora Festival Singers, Noel Edison: Arvo Part Berliner Messe

C. Michael Bailey By

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While firmly established as one of the most important instrumental composers of the Twentieth Century, Estonian Arvo Part (born 1935) fully distinguished himself as a choral composer. Since 1976, Pä²' has employed a compositional technique he labeled tintinnabuli (from the Latin: "little bells"), where the composer uses bell-like resonances in triads, underscoring a melodic voice revolving around a central key. That is the technical description. The method takes on almost a religious connotation as used by Part.

Berliner Messe contains compositions elaborated with Part's tintinnabuli method. The earliest pieces are the "Cantate" and "Summa," both dating from 1977. The former was revised twenty years later into the form presented here. His "De Profundis" was composed in 1980, the "Magnificat," based on Luke's account of the Blessed Virgin's Song in 1989, and the "Beatitudes" in 1990 with revision a year later. Part's "Berlin Mass" was composed and revised in 1992, making it the most recent composition of the collection.

What does this music sound like to the layman? It would sound like Gregorian chant, but differing from that style in several significant ways, the least of which is the passing of 1500 years. Part here writes choral music, that is music for the church. His writing is decidedly more Roman Catholic than the Eastern Orthodox of England's John Tavener (born 1944), the other towering choral composer (lest one considers Krzysztof Penderecki, born 1933). The "Cantate" is a beautiful setting of Psalm 95 ("O sing unto the Lord a new song?") with organ accompaniment. The Mass has a traditional string accompaniment, as it was originally scored for string quartet. The setting is traditional. "De Profundis" (Psalm 129, "Out of the deep have I called unto thee, o Lord?") is one of Part's most enduring settings, having been recorded many times. Here, the Elora Festival Singers under the direction of Noel Edison provide the scripture with an light airy bed for consideration. The performance of all pieces is solid and enduring. This Naxos set competes well with the Paul Hillier ECM series.

Track Listing: Cantate Domino Canticum Novum (Psalm 95); Berliner Messe; De Profundis; Summa; The Beatitudes; Magnificat

Personnel: Jurgen Petrenko--Organ; Elora Festival Singers and Orchestra, Noel Edison

Title: Arvo Part Berliner Messe | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Naxos


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