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Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Estonian National Symphony Orchestra; Tallinn Chamber Orchestra; Tanu Kaljuste conductor: Arvo Part: In Principio

C. Michael Bailey By

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Estonian composer Arvo Part (b. 1935) is the Dean of Choral Music composition, specifically that for the Orthodox Church. Any release of recently composed Part music is an occasion. Add the spacious sonics ECM provides recordings of his compositions and it's a true event. Release of In Principio marks the 25th anniversary of Arvo Part's inauguration of ECM's New Series (with Tabula Rasa in 1984), an association that has brilliantly captured the music of this modern master.

The title composition (2003) is a five-part setting for the prologue to the Gospel of John (1: 1-14), scored for mixed choir and orchestra. These five movements provide contrasts: between light and dark, loud and soft, powerful and tender, complex and simple. Part readily incorporates his diatonically inclined "tintinnabuli" to the extended piece, providing it rich texture and potent rhythm.

The oldest composition here is Mein Weg ("My Path") originally composed for organ in 1989 and later scored for 14 strings and percussion in 1994, premiering in 1999. It offers an instrumental foil to La Sindone (2005) which uses the Shroud of Jesus as its subject as extracted from Mark 15:46 ("Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.").

The fulcrum to this collection is two-part: the first being the choral "Da pacem Domine," among Part's most serene choral compositions. Part began its composition two days after the March 11, 2004 Madrid bombings as a homage to the victims. It is based on a ninth-century Gregorian antiphon and was originally issued in an a cappella version on 2005's Lamentate (ECM) with the brief text:

Da pacem, Domine, in diebus nostris
Quia non est alius
Qui pugnet pro nobis
Nisi tu Deus noster.

Give peace, O Lord, in our time
Because there is no one else
Who will fight for us
If not You, our God.

The second fulcric part to the collection is "Fur Lennart in memoriam," commissioned by the late Estonian president Lennart Georg Meri shortly before his death to be performed at his burial service. The instrumental piece is about capturing the stillness of grace among loss. The Tallinn Chamber Orchestra executes the pieces solemnly beneath the baton of Part acolyte Tõnu Kaljuste. In Principio serves to remind that there remain giants among us.


Track Listing: In Principio: I. In principio erat Verbum, :II. Fuit homo missus a Deo, III. Erat lux vera, IV. Quotquot autem acceperunt sum, V. Et Verbum caro factum est; La Sindone; Cecilia, vergine romana; Da Pacem Domine; Mein Weg; Far Lennart in memoriam.

Personnel: Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Estonian National Symphony Orchestra; Tallinn Chamber Orchestra; Tanu Kaljuste conductor.

Title: Arvo Part: In Principio | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: ECM Records

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