This is restorative, calming, meditative, contemplative. It shows you how beautiful the simplicity of harmonious human voices can be. I'm not religious at all but this is superb. The production is crystal clear. The tonality of the voices peerless. I never used to listen to classical music but I picked up on 'Spiegel am Spiegel' on Classic FM and the pursuit of Arvo Part's music began.
Arvo Pärt is one of Estonia's greatest exports, and this recording by the wonderful Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under the direction of Paul Hillier brings his work to life with deep feeling. The ethereal sopranos soar effortlessly above the rich harmonies that draw on the tradition of early music without immitating it. Many of the pieces are emotional and highly textured abstract 'artworks': expression comes generally from the quality of the tone and harmony rather than a structured melody. This effect is particularly beautifully executed in the title track 'Da Pacem', in the alternating, bell-like high and low entries of the various vocal parts; it simultaneously evokes the soaring heights of the cathedral and the romantic, mysterious, snowy winter landscape of the Baltic. Pärt draws on diverse sacred texts from Latin, Slavonic and English to create music which can be enjoyed as much by the curious beginner as by long term choral enthusiasts.
I'm not a particular connoisseur of classical music, but have started to dip my toe in the water with purchases by some of the 'modern' composers (John Adams, Steve Reich, Phillip Glass). I bought a particularly fine compilation ('Silencio') containing works by Arvo Part and, following a five-star review in the Guardian, decided to buy 'Da Pacem'.
And it's fabulous. This is very gentle, melodic choral music which (for me, anyway) relaxes and refreshes. Friends who have also heard it have asked, "what is this lovely music?" Just as a matter of interest, at the end of 2006, I did a search on my iPod of the music that I had been listening to most throughout the year. The Flaming Lips and The Divine Comedy were up there, but by far and away the most listened to album was 'Da Pacem'. I would recommend this to anyone, whatever your musical tastes.
There is a story that Arvo Part had a conversation with a street-sweeper in which he asked him what he would do if he were a composer. The street-sweeper apparently answered "I should learn to love every note". Mr Part clearly believed he was correct. I only heard my first piece of Arvo Part's music a year or so ago, when I heard "Spiegel im Spiegel" on Radio 3 one morning. I was transfixed. I am not a musician, but somehow the astonishing complexity that is within this piece was conveyed to me, despite the fact that to some it might sound like a practice lesson for violin and piano. I have no idea how that happened, and how it is that piece of music can be so simple, complex and beautiful at the same time. For me, the Tasmin Little, Martin Roscoe version of "Spiegel im Spiegel" sounds like they really did love every single note. And then Radio3 did it again and played "Da Pacem". I missed the intro, but not the beauty, and was both surprised, and equally unsurprised to discover it was Arvo Part again.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there really does seem to be something "right" about the way this music sounds. How any composer, Bach, Part, Mozart, Beethoven, Roger Waters, Jimmy Page or Peter Gabriel imagine music in their heads, and are then able write it down, and perform it, is astonishing to me, but how Arvo Part uses the totally conventional "voices" available in a purely vocal and orchestral palette, and creates music of such ethereal beauty, is something for which I am very grateful. Somehow the sounds seem different, and there is that odd quality that they have texture, something akin to a palpable feel, and yet they are insubstantial, and transitory, and evocative. But beware if you think, with a quick sample, this is something that you can listen to while you are performing some other task. You might want to use it as background, but it is worth so much more than that, and it might just be you will find yourself transported, and the task you intended quite undone. Music is rarely for everyone, tastes differ, but if you like beautiful, and sometimes unexpected tunes, you should at the very least sit and listen to this, and other of Arvo Part's works.
I find Arvo Pärt's music wonderful. He can compose the most fascinating sounds which makes you feel toutched and engaged when you listen to them. His music is very spiritual and profound and it makes you long for deeper values of our existense.
You can't convince someone to like Part. They arrive there, as I did, or they don't. If they don't they really shouldn't review it, it would be like doing a travelogue of a country you have never been to. This is beautifully performed, with some absolutely gorgeous chords that send tingles down your back. But remember, if your a non-believer you won't be changed by this.