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Living legend Arvo Pärt sublimates choral and string orchestra timbres in a significant new addition to the ECM New Series that began with his ‘Tabula Rasa’ in 1984. Performed by Tallinn Chamber Orchestra and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under direction of Tõnu Kaljuste
By many metrics, Arvo Pärt is one of the greatest composers of contemporary classical music still in operation today. His works are among the most frequently performed in the world, and held in highest esteem by a range of listeners, from the classical-curious to symphony hall season ticket holders. ’Tractus’ finds Pärt working once again with conductor, Tõnu Kaljuste, to realise the recordings of this new body of work, made in September 2022 at Methodist Church, Tallinn. They typically invite absorbed attention to the composer’s mastery of widescreen, minimalist sacred classical, landscaping, and inherently magnified and best represented by ECM’s peerless production values, which almost goes without saying.
’Tractus’ reflects on cues from a sermon by John Henry Newman, a C.19th english theologian and polymath with whom Pärt shares a Christian belief. Newman’s mid century ideas of change, transfiguration and renewal, rooted in a then controversial restoration of Catholic beliefs and liturgical rituals, prompt in Pärt a music that seeks to reconcile with the past. Newman’s writings can be heard to resonate the composer’s own shift, in the ‘70s, from serialism to a system of music that references far earlier styles of mediaeval music and Gregorian chant, as a way of renewing faith in their chosen paradigm; placing trust in the old ways.
Pärt’s ‘Tractus’ follows with a glorious expression of divinity, effectively streamlining millennia old ideas for modern souls, but, crucially, not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The 14-part movement sees him redress his own compositions (Littlemore Tractus, Greater Antiphons, Cantique des degrés, Sequentia, L’abbé Agathon, These Words… and Veni creator) in careful new performances, culminating in the tintinabulous shivers of ‘Vater unser’ and leaving one with the rarest sensation of quiet immanence that resonates regardless of personal faith.