Mr. Pärt's done it again. His latest release under the ECM New Series lable is brilliant, displaying some of his most mature and inspired work yet (which is saying something). There are six pieces here, four of them never before released, the other two new versions of previously released pieces.
The opening and titular piece, "In Principio", consists of five movements, clocks in at nearly twenty minutes, and is scored for choir and full orchestra. As his other pieces of the past several years that employed full orchestra have already shown and is here reinforced, Pärt is able to use the orchestra to great effect and color. It's a stirring piece, often sounding more overtly classical than many of his other pieces (classical in the Mozart, Beethoven, etc. sense). As another reviewer observed, it sometimes sounds like Mozart's Requiem, though I would add that its color and simple austerity keep it from sounding merely imitative, which it isn't.
"La Sindone", this time for orchestra alone, is a haunting piece of music. Over its fifteen minute running length, it establishes an ever more apparent sense of mystery and tension, building up to a climax before levelling off in an otherworldly E-flat chord for strings.
"Cecilia, vergine romana", up till now, could only be heard in snipets on the Pärt documentary, "24 Preludes for a Fugue", and those snipets indicated a sublimity that made this perhaps the most personally anticipated track on the album. It's a beautiful piece, culminating in a magnificent finale.
"Da Pacem Domine" was first heard on the 2005 release "Lamentate", where it was beautifully arranged for a small vocal ensemble. But here, it's scored for a larger ensemble, and string accompaniment. This new scoring adds a beauty and depth to the piece that make it truly superior to the older recording. A fantastic track.
"Mein Weg", originally scored for organ, now appears for strings and percussion. At first, it seems like the odd-man out, with its dissonances and aggitated feel. But by the end of the piece, it's proven its right to be on this album, and in fact provides a nice change of tone from that of the previous tracks.
The final piece, "Für Lennart", is an achingly beautiful piece written in memory of that other notable Estonian, Lennart Meri, politician, film-maker, and writer. Anything I might add would only subtract from the sublimity of this piece. A great end to the album.
As is to be expected from ECM, the recording quality is top-notch, and the packaging is very nice. All in all, a fantastic album, and a gem in the already lusterous crown of Arvo Pärt's oeuvre. Highly recommended. Now all we can do is hope that the next release won't take another four years, and until then, enjoy the music.