Arvo Part, Adam's Lament. Pärt’s work is a bit like a Spirograph design: apparently simple, elegant and with a mathematical base.

Label: ECM New Series
Time: 8 Tracks / 68 minutes

Pärt’s work is a bit like a Spirograph design: apparently simple, elegant and with a mathematical base. He describes “Salve Regina” as like a funnel, beginning in “large circles, slowly turning and becoming more and more concentrated and grave until it reaches the deepest point.”

Gradual change is an intrinsic part of Pärt’s music and even the contrasts are gentle in this collection, which mainly features string orchestras and (often female) choirs, supplemented by woodwind. He may consider the light “Beatus Petronius” and the majestic “Statuit ei Dominus” to be two sonic worlds, but the latter’s ever-present rolling drums bring on a smooth stateliness; and this recording, where strings and woodwind speak to each other, rather than the two organs of an earlier version, has a gentler timbre.

The new “Alleluia-Tropus” is typical of how to appreciate Pärt. One can listen for the musical mathematics, noting the parallel fifths, fourths and thirds or the harmonic progressions from tonic to sub-dominant to dominant. Alternatively, there is the meaning to ponder over in these words of Christian liturgy devoted to St. Nicolas – or it can simply be enjoyed as a short, sprightly piece of fluid melody.

There are two particularly lengthy pieces.  The longest is the title track’s leisurely setting of prose by an ascetic monk of Mt. Athos, in which Adam – as a symbol of all humanity or any person – laments his fallen state after being ejected from Eden and longs for the presence of God. “Adam’s Lament” slides between contemplation and action as it yearns for God’s mercy and a spirit of humility and love.

The other tells a story of how St. Agnathon’s love was tested by an angel in the form of a leper. As the story develops, so the moods and textures change. This piece has the only weakness for me as the soprano’s shrillness sounds less than angelic.

The two short lullabies that end the disc are particular sweet and easy to enjoy, as is “Beatus Petronius,” where vocals reverberate in space, like the tubular bell that punctuates them.

As usual, ECM’s 32-page package is excellent, comprising remarkably expressive photos, two-part introductions to the pieces and the text of all the works.

Producd by Manfred Eicher, conducted by Tönu Kaljuste and overseen by the Estonian himself, this may be the best of Pärt’s choral collections that I have heard, its gently shifting moods ideal for late evening listening.

Derek Walker

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