October 26, 2012
ARVO PäRT: ‘ADAM’S LAMENT’ AND OTHER CHORAL WORKSBy CORINNA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIMArvo Pärt’s music has such universal appeal that it is easy to lose sight of the specific spiritual traditions that feed it. On “Adam’s Lament,” a CD of choral works, Mr. Pärt, an Estonian, displays his affinity for the mystics and saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The collection is anchored by the 25-minute work for choir and orchestra that lends its name to the recording. In it Mr. Pärt sets the poetic lamentations of St. Silouan, a Russian Orthodox monk on Mount Athos in Greece, which describe Adam’s anguish at finding himself expelled from paradise. There is a world-weary heaviness to the work, with lumbering chords in the strings, monumental outbursts and abrupt silences. It’s a far cry from the exquisite simplicity of the earlier lament “An den Wassern zu Babeln,” on the 1987 ECM Pärt CD “Arbos.”
Short choral works — including the celestial “Salve Regina” and “Statuit ei Dominus,” with its colorful woodwind writing — offer further glimpses of Mr. Pärt’s tender and ponderous sides. An Estonian lullaby and a Russian Nativity song make for a sweet ending. Three vocal ensembles, Vox Clamantis, the Latvian Radio Choir and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, sing with pure sound but sometimes vague diction, although the haze also stems from the way Mr. Pärt’s settings seem to leave the text drifting on the music’s surface.
The haze lifts in “L’Abbé Agathon,” a 14-minute work for soprano, baritone, female choir and strings, reworked for this recording. A dramatization of the encounter between Agathon, a Desert Father, and an angel disguised as a leper, it has vividly rendered dialogues and a communicative immediacy that are almost theatrical. Tonu Kaljuste conducts this fine Baltic ensembles in Tallinn’s Niguliste Church, where a discrete echo trails each note like a comet’s tail.
CORINNA DA FONSECA-WOLLHEIM
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