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What have you come out into the desert to see? A reed shaking in the wind? Or a man dressed in fine clothes? Arvo Pärt's minimalist and spartan work, a meditation on the text of John 18:1 - 19:30, is certainly not for those seeking something dressed in finery.

The accompanying booklet is as minimalist as the work itself - a photograph of Pärt, a photograph of Pärt's hands, a photograph of Pärt with conductor Paul Hillier (for the man himself was present for the rehearsals and recording, so it has valid claim to represent the composer's intentions), the Latin text (which has a few typos unfortunately) and translation, and that's it. The disc only has one track, making it a bit difficult to find your place again were you to lose concentration, but having said that, the piece being all about the text, should really demand your entire attention devoted to it for the duration, as though it were Lectio Divina.

I had prevaricated between buying this and the Tonus Peregrinus recording, and the metaphorical toss of the coin fell in favour of this one. With hindsight, apart from the argument in favour of the aforementioned involvement of Pärt himself, I am given to believe that the pace of that other recording takes a full 15 minutes off the 70 minutes of this one. Having listened to this Hilliard Ensemble disc, I really cannot conceive of it being performed even a second faster, never mind that fast. The coin fell the right way I think.
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Arvo Pärt's transcendent music is always a deep experience, demanding attention and engagement from the listener. And whilst the musical lines may seem simple, they are not simplistic, and leave nowhere for musician or singer to hide. Without fidelity and surrender, his music can seem like some kind of technical exercise. Which is very very far from what it is.

Being lucky enough to attend a recent concert performance of Passio, sent me back to listen to The Hilliard Ensemble rendition. This is a long piece, and not one for our InstaGratification Hummable Tunes culture. It is not, in any way, a ‘background piece’ and unfolds itself through its single, 70 minute, unbroken movement. How can ‘The Passion’ be properly realised, glimmeringly felt, if the journey is not undertaken, and ‘snapshot moments’ only are listened to on the hoof?

This music in its purity and careful threading and weaving, requires an extraordinary precision and control to hold the length, flow and placement of the close, dissonant harmonies.

From the crushing, almost overwhelmingly heavy opening of the piece, hopeless, doom laden, arises beautiful, single threads of music and voices, offering, surely some tenderness, some way out of despair, despite suffering. The bass, solo lines of Jesus are steadfast and firm, and musically give a kind of foundation for the other voices, and musical lines to relate to. To sorrowfully, tenderly, and in the end – not quite triumphally, but with the possibility of achieving something hopeful, out of pain, out of despair, soar. The end both breaks, and releases, the heart.

This is indeed a fabulous rendition. Though the experience, of course, of a live performance – The Façade Ensemble, conductor Benedict Collins Rice, offers an intensity that solitary attentiveness to a recording, can never do
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on 13 January 2012
This is an outstanding modern pice, with depth and quiveringly moving harmonies. I heard it many years ago, and have now rediscovered it, and would unhesitatingly recommend it to those who wish to explore their spiritual side and are not afraid to lay it bare in all its rawness. That may sound a bit weird, but you will understand what I mean when you sit and listen in candlelight or the light of a late evening sun. Don't listen on headphones though - in this instance the voices need to surround you.
This is powerful stuff.
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on 9 February 2008
This is mesmerising music which brings the passion of Christ to life. And, yet, any variation in the music seems to be at the micro level only -despite that it is not monotonous. This recording is lovely but the only draw back is that there is only one track, which is fine if your are listening to it on a walkman or mp3 player which will remember where you finished off. But, not if you're main stereo does not have that facility.
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on 9 December 1999
It is difficult to classify this music so that it would satisfy a review. As a piece of music, its ritualism and staticism may perhaps be too extreme for a casual listener wanting to explore music of this kind. As a piece of Pärt's music, it represents a pinnacle (but not 'the' pinnacle) of his tintinnabuli music, and provides a moving and uplifting experience. As for the recording, it is impossible to fault.
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on 30 September 2015
5 stars each for the music, the performance and the recording.
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