Pärt: Triodion (CD Review - International Record Review, 2003)

I anticipate a considerable success for this disc. It brings together eight quite recent works by Pärt, and in doing so calls attention to the considerable variety to be found in them, to which Meurig Bowen’s informed notes provide an excellent guide. Dopo la vittoria brings the first surprise: it’s a setting of a text in Italian (though admittedly, translated from the Russian of the Dictionary History of Church Singers and Chants by Metropolitan Filaret, published in St Petersburg in 1902) dealing in celebratory fashion with the baptism of St Augustine by St Ambrose and alternating the composer’s more recent rapid, declamatory style with a kind of elongated tintinnabuli writing: once can definitely hear that it’s by Pärt, but the experience of writing in Italian has, as is natural, apparently released something else, some other aspect of the composer’s style. It’s an intriguing piece with many moments of intense beauty.

Even more unexpected are the settings of words by Burns and Cardinal Newman. The latter (Littlemore Tractus, which begins ‘May He support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen, and the evening comes …’) comes from a Newman sermon, and has overtones of both Pärt’s earlier works for organ and English late-Medieval music. My Heart’s in the Highlands is a curiosity, using an extremely restricted palette, for a solo countertenor and organ. For me it doesn’t really work, sounding, as it does, just too austere, but I can imagine it being very effective live. Salve Regina returns us to the Latin liturgy, in another memorable, richly scored setting.

More in the classical Pärt idiom are the Nunc dimittis and Triodion. Both are gentle, meditatively luminous works, though the latter is conceived on a much broader canvas. It has already been recorded once, by the choir which commissioned it, Lancing College; good though that recording is, Polyphony’s suave blend and sense of long-range direction is hard to beat. Recent recordings, under the direction of Paul Hillier, are also available of both … which was the Son of … and I am the true vine: these are also pleasing, however (and they are very appealing), it must be said that the rich, chocolate consistency of Polyphony’s sound knocks them into a cocked hat.

And speaking of hats, I take off my own, to Pärt, Polyphony and Hyperion for this, a dazzling recording of such extraordinary music.

See Recording Details