Classical reviews: Arvo Pärt and Bach

Michael Church
·2-min read
Arvo Pärt (Rex Features)
Arvo Pärt (Rex Features)

Arvo Pärt: Works for Choir

Vilnius Municipal Choir Jauna Muzika; director Vaclovas Augustinas

Cugate Classics CGC051CD

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Northern Europe is wonderfully rich in choral music – it must be something in the genes. But what’s notable about Arvo Pärt is that in his youth he was a dedicated follower of atonal fashion, as though he was trying to eradicate his natural choral instincts. Luckily, he failed: the result is a body of work which is at once instantly recognisable as his, yet is also firmly embedded in Scandinavian tradition. He is often paired with John Tavener, but there is an armature of steel in his work which we don’t find in that of the British composer. They are both "minimalists", but totally unlike. The singing on this CD is as fine as you would expect, but the opening track is marred by a horribly intrusive organ pedal-note.

Bach: Goldberg Variations

Parker Ramsay, harp

KC50049

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

From Kings Collage, Cambridge, normally the home of Elizabethan vocal polyphony, here comes something very different. Bach’s keyboard music has been rearranged countless times for other instrumentation – everything from large orchestras to scat singing to Moog synthesisers to saxophone quartets – but never before for solo harp, and here comes the multi-talented organ scholar Parker Ramsay to do it. As his mother is a harpist, that instrument is for him his mother tongue, and as he points out, the harp does in some ways offer him the best of two normally irreconcilable worlds: the harp is a plucked instrument, like the harpsichord, but it is sensitive to pressure like the piano. On the other hand, some of the keyboard effects in this great work are literally impossible on the harp, and when the music becomes chromatic, it necessitates some frantically nimble dancing across the pedals.

For Parker this recording represents a statement about the harp – there are very few solo harp works of this length – and, by and large, it’s successful. The sound is beguiling, if less varied in dynamics than that of other instruments; the main drawback is the gently ballooning sympathetic resonance which surrounds each phrase.

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