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Pärt: Miserere
Arvo Part, Dennis Russell Davies, Hilliard Ensemble
Pärt: Miserere
Genres: Jazz, Pop, Classical
  •  Track Listings (3) - Disc #1

Spiritually moving, sublimely austere, and eloquently expressive, Arvo Pärt's "Miserere" is among the Estonian composer's most profound statements within his growing liturgical canon. In the years since this recording's re...  more »


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Spiritually moving, sublimely austere, and eloquently expressive, Arvo Pärt's "Miserere" is among the Estonian composer's most profound statements within his growing liturgical canon. In the years since this recording's release, Part has become well-known for his unique compositional style, in which, with the simplest of tools, he creates an impression of music suspended in time, where sound, melody, and harmony mingle in such a way that we sense both movement and stasis. With its opening chant-like melody, minor triad harmony, solo voice, and clarinet, "Miserere" quietly unfolds as if from an eternal existence--until suddenly, the mood is shattered as a chorus and larger instrumental contingent deliver a harrowing rendition of the "Dies irae." In the calm that follows, quietness holds as much meaning as musical sound. And so Pärt leads us on an unforgettable journey--a musical miracle, faithfully and reverently proclaimed by the masters of this repertoire, the Hilliard Ensemble. --David Vernier

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Very special, but not the best introduction to Part
Mark Swinton | 02/08/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This disc is a single-composer study, of which it can be said that some items are better examples of his work than others.Two works on this disc show Part's tintinnabuli style in full bloom. "Miserere" itself is over thirty minutes long, and by far the best item in the programme. A setting of Psalm 51 in Latin (the same text as set in the famous Allegri "Miserere") with verses interpolated from the "Dies Irae" of the Missa pro Defunctis, this work shows how Part's style can magically draw a wealth of emotions from the simplest of musical concepts. Indeed, the work opens with the barest of motifs: the words of the psalm are chanted on three notes by a high solo tenor, interspersed with triadic statements (the so-called tintinnabuli pitches) on clarinet, and moreover bound together with distinct silences. This develops as the text unfolds: a solo counter-tenor joins the tenor in a haunting duet; meanwhile the instrumental ensemble expands to include other woodwinds and organ, all of which offer what appears to be a delicate wordless commentary. An abrupt change of pace comes with the "Dies Irae" verses, sung by a four-part chamber choir with massive, apocalyptic statements from woodwinds, brass, organ, percussion and electric guitars (!) - yet all is in the same style as the opening. After this massive outburst of terror, the opening discourse returns, sung by soloists (soprano, counter-tenor, two tenors and a bass). The interplay of voices and instruments carries the text forward in strikingly beautiful and sensitive ways. The work ends, in pure penitence and supplication, with a further choral statement, this time sung with heart-rending quietness: the "Rex tremendae" verse of the "Dies Irae," bringing the work to a close. It truly is one of Part's masterpieces - a proof that the extreme simplicity of the tintinnabuli style need not be limited to small-scale works, and can indeed break free of sounding annoying or repetitive. Recorded here in a very generous acoustic, played and sung with clarity and gravity, and carrying a beautifully sustained emotional weight, this is a definitive performance - a real gem.The other tintinnabuli work (track 2) is "Festina lente" - "hurrying slowly" - which is scored for string orchestra and harp and makes use of the mensuration canon technique employed by the composer in "Miserere" and other works. This is a softer and more direct piece than "Miserere," but the effect is refreshing after the profound writing of the former - and like "Miserere," it is sensitively performed here.The last work on the disc may at first seem off-putting. "Sarah was ninety years old" was composed just prior to Part's formation of tintinnabuli (he had previously written serial music, like that of Schoenberg). It is a minimalist piece - the first four minutes or so feature nothing but a single drum, played with two beaters to produce alternating timbres of sound. These timbres are hacked out in a single rhythmic pattern that never seems to end: this is said to symbolise the ninety years of barren life lived by Sarah, wife of Abraham in the biblical book of Genesis. Presently, two tenors enter with an array of chords, cycling around each other and also set to a basic repeating rhythm. After more knocking from the drum and more very simple vocal droning, the organ enters, massive yet restrained, and an ecstatic solo soprano takes up the wordless narrative - Sarah conceives a child, the first of many that became the Israelites in the Genesis story. At first hearing (and perhaps several subsequent ones) this piece will seem dull and pointless; it does have a remarkable meaning, however, and it is quite gem-like even as it is barren and seemingly devoid of musical content.Having described the contents of this disc, I feel that ultimately no description, not even the more explicitly-detailed ones given in the booklet, can prepare the listener for this music. If you like Arvo Part, it is essential listening; if you like the Hilliard Ensemble, it is one of their outstanding performances beyond any doubt. Some listeners may find it tedious, others may simply find it too overwhelming and give it a miss. However, with its excellent performances and intricate designs (such as are a hallmark of ECM New Series), this record is certainly very special."
The Beauty of Absence
E. Walling | UK | 06/08/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Despite Part's most recent work `Orient and Occident' or indeed his `LamenTate' scored for Anish Kapoor's remarkable sculpture at the Tate Modern, Miserere still exists as a celestial and cavernous masterpiece, overshadowing or rather still evidently commanding his present work.
Scored for an extraneous cacophony of the finest soloists (the favourites from the Hilliard Ensemble), chorus and orchestra, the dimension of sound created within the stases of extreme texture-both restrained and humble against the declarative and mighty his effect is extraordinarily overwhelming on both scales.
One is made ultimately aware of a direct embodiment of the composer's ineffable intent. And so with a conscious recourse to previous works such as `Arbos' scored simply for brass, rhythmic and harmonic themes are notably recurrent in the gigantic descending syncopated chorus of Miserere. As one who is well acquainted with Part's penchant for divine simplicity, new listeners will become immediately infatuated with the striking delicacy of restrained melody and contrapuntal purity heard throughout all tracks in this compilation.
This is devotional music by a devotional man but do not be mislead by the apparently pristine and pious intent,. Part is often wrongly associated by means of orthodoxy with his contemporary, the somewhat priggish, Sir John Tavener. I can do no more for my readers than holler my own distaste for such associations, however biased I might appear. Part's music is clandestine as far as one can allow intellectually, and albeit religiously bound, it withholds an identity so profoundly unattainable elsewhere that is almost torturous to subject ones ear to it.One does not find in Part, the pastoral reconcilement nor the vexatious Avant Gardism that might be expected from an Eastern European War Child. The silence, indeed the echo of nothingness imbued in that swarthy, infinite space is intoxicating to the very pinnacle of obsession. What one is able to attain is the diaphanous awareness of a profound absence. However this absence is interpreted is, ultimately, the prerogative of the listener."
Music for Solace, for the Soul, for Contemplation
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 02/20/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Arvo Part fills a void in the musical network of contemporary compositions. He creates much out of little, using minimal notes and phrases, repeating these with subtle variations, as though he were creating an atmosphere for Zen-like trance states.

The three works here recorded with utmost clarity and restraint are from Part's deeply religious vein. The 'Miserere' emerges from the silence of the depths of the earth and transcends the human supplicants to become a pathway to the ethereal presence that in this realm is guardian to us all. The Hilliard Ensemble performs with radiant perfection. The 'Feste Lente' is an adagio for strings with ad libitum harp and is quiet and simple and in direct communication with the spirit. The final work 'Sarah was ninety years old' is more a cross between Buddhist intonations and Gregorian chant than anything else. This seems like music written for the high spaces in the domes of Europe's largest cathedrals, the area where the sounds of light distant winds suggest the flutter of angel wings. And Part achieves all of this with three solo voices, organ and timpani.

Perhaps saving this recording for darkened rainy afternoons brings this otherworldly music to life in an even more poetic way. There is an affinity for the transparency and repetition of notes in these works that marries well with birthing clouds and the rain that comes and goes. For soothing the soul this is one viable source. Grady Harp, February 2005"