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The Hilliard Ensemble: Part – Litany (APE)

The Hilliard Ensemble: Part - Litany (APE)
The Hilliard Ensemble: Part - Litany (APE)

Performer: The Hilliard Ensemble, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra
Conductor: Tonu Kaljuste, Saulius Sondeckis
Composer: Arvo Part
Audio CD
Number of Discs: 1
Format: APE (tracks)
Label: ECM Records
Size: 157 MB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

01. Litany
02. Psalom
03. Trisagion

I’ve had the same reaction as several of the other reviewers to “Litany”: it is one of Arvo Parts most beautiful and moving compositions.

Several striking passages are imprinted on my memory. The initial few minutes must be among Part’s most enticing openings. The music emerges from a shrouded place of mystery and, though the writing is mostly modal here, Part throws in a chromatic note that lends the melody an exotic – even an oriental – flavor that is absolutely striking. The modal writing is modified in a section about 6 minutes in, when Part inserts an assertive Bach-like flourish through a set of canonical entries in the orchestra, with the brass playing a big role. This is an atypical reference to Bach for Part, who looks to different points in the history of sacred music for inspiration, but it is a powerful one, adding to the tone of severity and mystery enshrouding the opening of “Litany.” I also was impressed by a transition passage about 11’ into “Litany” where the individual musicians each play a note or pair of notes in pointillist fashion until arriving at a big minor harmony. The lengthy final section manages to evoke a sense of momentum despite its slow-moving and sometimes static harmonies through the use of oscillating repeated note pairs in the orchestra, similar to tintinnabulating bells. This creates an arc moving “Litany” from shrouded and tragic stillness at the outset to a more turbulent but still very sacred and mystical conclusion.

This large-scale conception is married to interesting melodic writing and emotional power, making for an outstanding work in my opinion. Set to an English text, it is written for vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra and comes in at a bit over 20 minutes in this fine performance from conductor Tonu Kalljuste and the Estonian Philharmonic orchestra and choir, interpreters who have given us several very fine premiere recordings of Part in the past. They hold to their high standards and this performance is musical and technically accomplished.

A couple of years ago I would have confidently said that the “Tabula Rasa” concerto was Part’s marquee opus, but the quality of “Litany” has made me re-think that. If you’ve never listened to Part, “Litany” is a fine entrée that I think will be both striking and representative of his art.

The rest of the disc is a bit of a side-thought after “Litany.” The entire thing lasts under 45 minutes and the two orchestra pieces appended to the main event are below-average efforts from the Estonian artist, in my opinion. They are static minimalist orchestra pieces, here played well by the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra conducted by Saulius Sondeckis. Peaceful and pretty in an unobtrusive way, they don’t have the same impact as “Litany” for me. All three works are the products of the early 1990s, so the disc represents a snapshot of Part’s writing then, with the “Litany” dating from 1994, “Trisagion” from 1992 and the “Psalom” revised in 1995 after being first drafted in 1985.

This is an outstanding Part disc due to “Litany.” Sound engineering is absolutely excellent, as you’d expect from the ECM New Series label. I love this disc and recommend it with warmth.

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