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Arvo Part: Passio

C. Michael Bailey By

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Arvo Part: Passio Estonian composer Arvo Pärt has long been the recording darling of Manfred Eicher and ECM Records. The label has released no fewer than eleven volumes of his music, including the record under current consideration. Born in Tallinn, Estonia in 1935, Pärt immigrated to Berlin in 1980 to escape Soviet repression and shortly thereafter conceived his treatment of the Passion of Jesus Christ According to John based upon his newly developed musical style of tintinnabuli. His track of musical thought is based on the principle that "the melody and the accompaniment are one" and employs bell-like triads in composition.



Pärt joins a rarified group who has used this sacred text in music. J.S. Bach, Heinrich Schutz and various other composers have applied their pen to envelop this text. Pärt chooses a stark setting, employing only an organ, violin, cello, bassoon, and oboe and vocal ensemble. He has typically been fairly particular about the timing of his compositions, particularly the use and lengths of silences. Tonus Peregrinus Director Antony Pitts consulted the composer personally before completing the performance version of Passio. The results are stunning and offer a real alternative to the Hilliard ensemble on ECM.



Pärt's intention was to make this setting stark and dramatic. Using his mathematical tintinnabuli principle, he produced a work of breathless beauty. One might expect Pärt’s approach to sound similar to the twelve-tone composers of the early Twentieth Century. But this music is very melodic and very listenable. Pärt is well studied in the vocal traditions of the Renaissance and Baroque periods as well as Plainchant. This familiarity is in great evidence here. Still, Passio is a thoroughly modern work.



Anthony Pitts founded Tonus Peregrinus in 1990 while attending New College, Oxford. Meaning literally "wandering tone" in Latin, Tonus Peregrinus has appeared widely in Europe and has released Mass of Tournai coupled with an anonymous St. Luke Passion (Naxos Classical 8.555861). The group’s performance is exact and refined and reflects the authenticity that Pitts earned by consulting with the composer. In any event, this Passio is a fine addition to a repertoire that remains much too small.



See Naxos Classical .

Track Listing: Jesus is betrayed and arrested in Gethsemane (exordium; John 18:1-12) "Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi secundum Joannen...

Personnel: Tonus Peregrinus, Antony Pitts, Director.

Year Released: 2003


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