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Em Marshall
MusicWeb International, March 2009

This disc presents works from between 1990 and 2001 by Arvo Pärt, the Estonian composer who is mainly known for his sacred choral works, with their unmistakable blend of early chant with modern dissonances and Pärt’s signature tintinnabuli style…All the performances on this disc are excellent—luminous and intense, suiting the music perfectly. The choice of works gives a good overview of Pärt’s compositions, and St John Chrysostom Church in Ontario’s Newmarket has right degree of resonance to draw out the floating vocal lines.




Penguin Guide, January 2009

It is good to have an inexpensive collection to emphasize the strength of Arvo Pärt’s choral writing. All this music has a ready appeal, particularly I Am the True Vine and The Woman with the Alabaster Box, set to unexpected texts, while the sparer Nunc dimittis reminds the listener of he individuality of the composer’s ecclesiastical music. Excellent performances and very good recording.



Colin Clarke
Fanfare, April 2007

"The subtle, ethereal unaccompanied choral music of Arvo Pärt seems ideally suited to the Canadian choir, the Elora Festival Singers. The hushed reverence that forms the core of Pärt's expressive apparatus benefits from this choir's combination of warmth and clarity, superbly caught by Naxos's production team. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Triodion, one of Pärt's most famous scores. The work has links with Benjamin Britten (it was commissioned by Lancing College. Sussex, an institution for which Britten penned his cantata Saint Nicholas). Setting three odes from the Orthodox Prayer-Book, Pärt dwells on the beauty of the texts themselves, reflecting this trait in his music. The third ode is particularly devotional in nature, and receives a magnificent performance (a special word of praise for the accuracy of the sopranos' attack at the top of the vocal range).

Of almost equal duration is Dopo la vittoria, a work written for the 1600th anniversary of the death of Saint Ambrose. The scoring here is perhaps more varied that in the other works, but no less devotional for it.

The Tribute to Caesar calls to mind the depth of utterance of a Russian Orthodox Choir (it sets text from Matthew’s Gospel). In terms of sheer loveliness, honors are shared between the Nunc dimittis of 2001 (a simply beautiful harmonic shift around 4:55) and I am the True Vine (composed in 1996 for the 900th anniversary of Norwich Cathedral on a text from the Gospel of Saint John). The Woman with the Alabaster Box exemplifies Pärt’s delicacy to perfection. The Elora Festival Singers manage to sustain a truly reverential atmosphere throughout.

The hymn to divine femininity that is the Bogoróditse Djévo is the shortest item on the disc at 1:38, but it makes the most direct emotional impact. Almost jolly in demeanor, it is a fitting way to end a memorable disc.

...Musically this is a rewarding disc and if you do not already have the Hyperion recording on Pärt choral music (CDA 67375; Polyphony conducted by Stephen Layton), this one fits the bill perfectly, especially at the lower cost. My colleague Henry Fogel gave a warm welcome to this choir’s Naxos disc of music by Healey William in Fanfare 30:1. I can only echo his sentiments with reference to the present offering."



KOOB
American Record Guide, February 2007

Naxos blesses us here with a beautifully performed survey of a cappella choral works written mostly in the past decade by revered Estonian master Arvo Part. The last purely choral album of his music I covered (J/F 2004, by Stephen Layton's Polyphony) duplicates several of the major works heard here.

While Part generally adheres to his hallmark triad-based "tintinnabuli" formula in these pieces, they tend to demonstrate how he has managed to enrich his usual stark and timeless impression with fresh harmonic depth and complexity. Prime examples are Triodion, a triptych of ancient sacred ode-settings-and Dopo La Vittoria, weaving the classic 'Te Deum' text into the touching story of St Augustine's (its alleged author) baptism. Then there's my favorite here: I am the True Vine, a stunning evocation of musical "branches". The lush Nunc Dimittis (written separately from his widely performed Magnificat, not included here) builds from gentle entreaty to ecstasy. You can find more detailed discussions of these important works in the other review.

Of the remaining selections, two are new to me. Tribute to Caesar cunningly interweaves chordal progressions amid static notes and melodic lines. The Woman with the Alabaster Box is a melancholy treatment of Christ's gentle rebuke of his disciples' indignation at his lavish anointing.

Most Part fans know Bogoroditse Djevo, written in the early 90s for one of the King's College Choir's annual Christmas lessons-and­carols broadcasts. We also get 'Ode VII', an Orthodox-tinged excerpt from the rather long Kanon Pokajanen. While entire performances of the work border on the tedious, many of its movements (including this one) stand well by themselves.

Edison's most excellent Elora Festival Singers-one of Canada's finest professional choirs-have made a number of outstanding recordings for Naxos, and this one's no exception. The exceptional clarity, pinpoint precision, and subtle nuance of their work fully rivals their distinguished English counterparts. Naxos's series covering Part's work in all genres is one of the best and most comprehensive on records. Recording quality is superb, and the booklet is informative and complete.



Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, February 2007

The Elora Festival Singers have already recorded Arvo Pärt’s Berliner Messe and his Magnificat for Naxos. Now they have recorded a further disc, exploring Pärt’s unaccompanied choral music. In a way, this is an apt follow-up to the earlier one as it covers the choral music that Pärt wrote after the 1989 Magnificat up to his 2001 Nunc Dimittis. On this disc Pärt seems to be following a path in which his music develops an added richness. Though this is less of a strict development and more of a series of explorations, all the while Pärt sticks to his basic style; a style that ensures that every piece here is recognisable and moving.

The choir opens its recital with his 1998 Triodion, setting three odes from the Orthodox Prayer Book. The piece was commissioned by Lancing College to mark the 150th anniversary of the College’s founding; Benjamin Britten had written his cantata St. Nicholas for the College’s 100th anniversary. St. Nicholas is the College’s patron Saint and Pärt refers to him in the final ode.

Triodion has already appeared on disc at least twice before, in recordings by the choir of Lancing College and by Polyphony. Polyphony’s recording was highly commended in the Gramophone in 2003. But the Elora Festival Singers, a Canadian professional group, are well up to the challenge. Their tone is warm and flexible, disguising the difficulties of Pärt’s vocal writing and allowing the music to speak naturally. I found their performance of this piece profoundly affecting. You could imagine brighter, more hard-edged performances but the choir give this austere piece a feeling of humanity and warmth.

The other pieces have all appeared before in highly commended recordings. Besides Polyphony, Theatre of Voices and the Estonian Chamber choir have also made overlapping discs. This is no matter, as Pärt’s music is such that hearing different performances of the same work is illuminating. And, of course, the Naxos pricing means that we can experiment a little and duplicate without causing undue budgetary problems.

Tribute to Caesar is a similarly apposite setting of the verse from the Gospel of St. Mark. This was written to commission, as were most of the pieces on this disc. Tribute and The Woman with the Alabaster Box were both commissioned to mark the 350th anniversary of the diocese of Karlstad in Sweden. The Nunc Dimittis was a commission from St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh and I am the True Vine was written to commemorate the 900th anniversary of the founding of Norwich Cathedral. The commissioners of all these pieces must be more than content; they helped give us some of Pärt’s most sophisticated and affecting music. All of it is well performed by Noel Edison and his singers. Inevitably there are odd moments when you might think things could have been done a little differently, but all the pieces are performed to the same high standard.

The short Bogorodiste Djevo was written for the 1992 Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at Kings College, Cambridge. The CD booklet describes it as highly charged. I am afraid that I found it less so in this performance.

Dopo la Vittoria sets an Italian text, translated from the Russian, and was commissioned to commemorate the 1600th anniversary of the death of St. Ambrose. Here I found the choir’s performance rather too cool in its perfection, I wanted more passion in the vocal lines. Somehow the performance fails to match the vibrancy of the Italian text and Pärt’s response to it.

The earliest piece is Ode VII from Kanon Pokajanen. The complete Kanon Pokajanen is one of Pärt’s longest works. Though it receives a loving performance here, I would have liked to hear more of the full work.

This is a finely crafted disc with some superb choral singing. Pärt’s music is never easy and often performance is made more difficult by the need for the finished result to sound natural and effortless. Here it does. The singing of the Elora Festival Singers is the art which conceals art.

When listening to complete recitals of Pärt’s choral music, I develop a number of unworthy thoughts; that all his music sounds the same and that he is attempting to set the text of the entire Bible and the Russian Orthodox Canon. Performances like this persuade me otherwise … just!

Inevitably everyone will have preferences and favourites and recitals by other groups might give Pärt’s music in a different sound-world which is more to your taste. But this disc makes it easy to explore Pärt’s unaccompanied vocal music at a very attractive price.



Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, November 2006

Conversations with others have made me realise that I wasn’t alone in being slow to appreciate either the depth or the range of Pärt’s work. Early exposure to his more ‘minimalist’ works, for which I had only a relatively limited appetite, led me to a rather lazy lack of attention to his work of the last fifteen years, in which much has changed. I am delighted to welcome this well sung and well recorded anthology of works for unaccompanied choir, all written between 1990 and 2001. It confirms just how fine Pärt’s work of this period is, and perhaps it will – especially at the Naxos price – attract new listeners to Pärt’s music.

Triodion was commissioned by Lancing College in Sussex in celebration of its 150th year – Benjamin Britten having written St. Nicholas for the 100th year of the school. Pärt sets three prayers from the Orthodox Prayer book, the last of them a plea for St. Nicholas’s intercession: “O Holy Saint Nicholas, Pray unto God for us” (the full name of Lancing being the ‘College of St. Mary and St. Nicholas). Triodion is one of the fruits of Pärt’s appropriation of the musical language of early Renaissance choral music, beautifully evocative of the moods of his text and, while harmonically quite spare, far from merely minimalist.

Elsewhere on the disc, The Woman with the Alabaster Box – setting the famous story from Chapter 26 of St. Matthew’s Gospel – has a richness of texture and vivacity of tone which will come as a surprise to those who know only Pärt’s earlier work. To listen to the setting of the Nunc dimittis alongside Ode VII from the substantial composition Kanon Pokajanen is to realise just how various Pärt’s music has become in recent years. The Nunc dimittis is radiant and luminous, the transition to the major at “lumen ad revelationem” a moment of considerable beauty; Ode VII, on the other hand, is altogether darker and penitential, shot through with a deeply troubled sense of human sinfulness.

Dopo la vittoria was commissioned by the City of Milan, to honour the 1600th anniversary of the birth of St. Ambrose, a figure central to the early history of the church in that city. There is rather more word-painting here than one expects from Pärt, a more precise musical responsiveness to verbal detail than is generally characteristic of his music. In other respects the work is quintessential Pärt, slowly shifting harmonic rhythmic patterns used to beautiful effect. The disc closes with Bogoróditse Djévo, more forcefully emotional than is sometimes the case with Pärt, more vigorous and energetic too.

So, a fascinating picture of the later developments in Pärt’s choral writing – and he is surely one of or age’s great masters in the composition of music for unaccompanied choir – illustrative of his increased range, and of the continuing precision of his work. There are other recordings of some of these pieces – such as those by Polyphony on Hyperion (CDA 67375); but the Elora Festival Singers stand up to such comparisons very well, and confirm the excellent impression made by the earlier Naxos recording of the Berliner Messe and other pieces (Naxos 8.557299 & 6.110052 - see review).



Barry Witherden
Gramophone, November 2006

This fine choir are fully in tune with Part's ripening music.

In the crowded field of Part choral recordings Naxos has consistently made a mark, despite being ranged against top-class contenders like Polyphony (Hyperion) and Paul Hillier's Estonian forces (Harmonia Mundi). In particular, this latest offering by the Elora Singers overlaps with Polyphony's Triodion (11/03) and Hillier's Da pacem (A/06) but it's still well worth considering, both for the beautiful performances and for the care with which the pieces have been chosen to illustrate the developments in Part's writing during the 1990s.

Throughout that decade there were subtle yet rather startling indications that Part might be heading for a more lush approach, a style involving busier melodies and harmonic movement. These can be heard in the cadences of I am the true vine, the almost sumptuous textures of The Woman with the Alabaster Box and Tribute to Caesar, and the unusually short note values of the opening and closing passages of Dopo la vittoria and Bogoróditse Dyévo, with its unmistakable Orthodox tinge.

It now seems clear that we were witnessing the organic ripening of Part's music, not a change of direction, and the most recent piece here - the Nunc dimittis (2001), commissioned for St Mary's Episcopal Church in Edinburgh and seen by some as an inevitable if long-delayed response to Part's Magnificat (1989) - still displays his characteristic purity of sound and austere methodology, which are realised with great sensitivity by the Elora Singers. This CD makes an excellent companion-piece to the team's warmly recommended "Sacred Music of Arvo Part" (Naxos, 10/04).




Victor Carr Jr
ClassicsToday.com, October 2006

This new Arvo Pärt choral music collection includes a significant number of works sung in English. The three-part Triodion is one of the composer’s most inward, contemplative pieces, drawing heavily on early Renaissance choral style for its stark, spare harmonies. Tribute to Caesar, I am the True Vine, and The Woman with the Alabaster Box follow in this tradition, though these feature a richer harmonic palette as well as more fluid movement and brighter colors.

The remaining works include the brooding and intense Ode VII (Memento) from Kanon Pokajanen, the brief, celebratory Bogoróditse Djévo (which closes the program), Nunc dimittis, and Dopo la Vittoria. This last is one of the most beautiful compositions on the CD. Here we have the more familiar, “modern” Pärt as we hear passages that sound faintly minimalistic while always draped in luminous colors and arresting timbres. Of course, those two attributes apply to most of Pärt’s moving and exquisitely rendered choral music. Exquisite also describes the performances of the Elora Festival Singers, who provide pure-toned and texturally beautiful singing under Noel Edison’s direction. Naxos’ recording is spacious and well-detailed, with wide dynamics. A truly enjoyable hour of music, essential for Pärt aficionados and choral enthusiasts.




John Terauds
Toronto Star, October 2006

This 71-year-old Estonian composer continues to create choral soundscapes that have the same meditative power as Gregorian chant, but using a denser, richer musical palette. This is largely Christian music, but its deep spirituality transcends all religious boundaries. Two fine new albums continue to introduce us to Pärt's riches, so seldom heard live here. This local group continues its Pärt recording series with eight works spanning 1990 to 2001, recorded at St. John Chrysostom Church in Newmarket. The sound could be a bit more reverberant, but otherwise this is an excellent disc.



Robert Everett-Green
The Globe and Mail, October 2006

The excellent Canadian choir feels out the texture and weight of each word in Part's luminous setting of a verse from St. Luke, in which dissonance sounds like a test of faith that is never quite resolved.






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