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Part: Creator Spiritus / Paul Hillier, Theatre Of Voices, Ars Nova Copenhagen

Part / Theatre Of Voices / Hillier
Release Date: 04/10/2012 
Label:  Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 807553  
Composer:  Arvo Pärt
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Theatre of VoicesArs Nova Copenhagen
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Paul Hillier curates this collection of Arvo Pärt's choral and instrumental chamber music drawn from different periods in the composer's career. Leading his celabrate vocal ensembles 'Theatre of Voices' and 'Ars Nova Copenhagen' along with 'NYYD Quartet' and long-time collaborator organist 'Christopher Bowers-Broadbent', Hillier produces another powerful recording of ethereal sacred music.

R E V I E W S:

Choral master Paul Hillier knows the music of Arvo Pärt as well as anyone, having been there for the composer’s early ECM recordings, written one of the few books on him and, lately, led a series of excellent Pärt surveys for Harmonia Mundi. Here, Hillier offers an intimate collection of vocal
Read more and instrumental chamber pieces that range across the Estonian’s career, anchored by the Stabat Mater of 1985 — a contemporary classic that stands with the greatest works devoted to the “grieving mother” from Josquin to Poulenc. This performance of the Stabat Mater is beautiful sung and ideally recorded. “My Heart Is in the Highlands” — a setting of the Robert Burns ballad for solo high voice and organ — is one of Pärt’s most perfect creations; sung here by soprano Else Torp (Hillier’s wife), it will crush a sensitive soul. Another standout is “Ein Wallfahrtslied” (A Pilgrim’s Song), which has a dark edge rare for latter-day Pärt; as a string quartet lays down a snaking, chromatic path, tenor and baritone intone the psalm like specters, lonely but ever-determined.

– Bradley Bambarger, Listen Magazine [Summer 2012]

"Paul Hillier is an eloquent interpreter of Mr Pärt's idiosyncratic style." – The New York Times

“As Pärt’s longtime friend and collaborator, Hillier’s interpretations are about as definitive as you can get.” – Gramophone

“Harmonia Mundi USA also produces some exceptional SACDs, with the spatial capabilities of the format serving Pärt’s choral works to perfection.” – Roger Thomas, BBC Music Magazine


"In this strange and wonderful disc (given the collective title Creator Spiritus) from Harmonia Mundi, part of its ongoing Arvo Pärt series, the performing logistics are even more convoluted than they appear in the headnote. To wit: Four of the solo singers—Else Torp, Chris Watson, William Purefoy, and Paul Hiller—are part of the five-part vocal group called Theatre of Voices, thus when you see that designation Torp is the lead soprano. But Hiller is also the director (but not a singer) of the 12-member choral group known as Ars Nova Copenhagen, which also includes Torp, expanded for this project to 16 singers in which they added tenor Watson and bass Jakob Bloch Jespersen, but not Purefoy.


Those familiar with Pärt’s unusual sound world will be utterly captivated by this CD. As with so much of his music, it has an unusual stillness about it: There is harmonic movement, and one can feel a number of beats per measure (or, at least, per minute), but it stays in one place, which draws the listener inward and makes him or her a part of the unfolding sounds. This disc focuses on Pärt’s chamber music with the caveat “if we include in that category a few pieces for chamber choir,” and the disc ends with a major work, his 26-minute Stabat Mater. The dates of these pieces range from 1963 (Solfeggio, revised 2008) through The Deer’s Cry (2007). The earlier piece, originally written for chorus, was transcribed by Pärt for a string quartet, so that’s the version performed here. The NYYD Quartet is able to focus in so much on the specific sound qualities of the music—based on a major scale that is used like a seven-tone row—that its timbre resembles that of an organ. It’s an extraordinarily unusual and haunting effect.


But haunting effects, through the use of what Pärt refers to as his “tintinnabuli technique,” are part and parcel of all the works here. Focusing on timbre and pursuing slow-moving musical forms do not really make Pärt a forerunner of Minimalism, yet there are a striking number of similarities between the two. The greatest difference between them is that Pärt explores stillness and the effect of timbre on the mind, while Minimalism explores primarily the hypnotic effect created by short repeated melodic patterns without considering timbre as an essential component. An excellent example is the nine-minute song, “My Heart’s in the Highlands.” Here the solo soprano (Torp) sings the lyrics on repeated notes, slowly climbing up by thirds, while the organ ruminates around her. Were this Minimalism, the same melodic and rhythmic pattern would repeat itself for long stretches of time; here, the stretches of time slowly but surely nudge the music into its own eccentric and slow-moving pattern, but it does change.


The effects created by the sopranos in Peace Upon You, Jerusalem are uncanny, and remind one of water slowly falling from the edge of a precipice—one might say, a waterfall in slow motion. The most unusual piece here, from the standpoint of construction, is Ein Wallfahrtslied or A Pilgrim’s Song, where the string quartet writing pursues an almost torturous chromatic path, the strands of the four instruments using more counterpoint than usual. When the baritone enters, singing a monotone E, it resembles church chanting except that it’s for one voice. After a modulation, the tenor enters singing on the note B—to which the baritone adds a few words occasionally before taking over, and moving the line of music back to B.


An unusual, and torturous, bit of history attaches itself to Morning Star. The text is a prayer from the tomb of St. Bede in Durham Cathedral, where the very largely decayed remains of this one-sentient being arrived not only post-mortem but several centuries after. He died in 735, but his bones (what was left of them) were brought to Durham in 1022. In 1370, what was left of that was moved to a shrine in the Galilee Chapel. (I shall hereafter abbreviate “Bede’s bones” as BB, though I’m sure that by 1370 they were “Bede’s dust.”) But this shrine was destroyed during the Reformation in 1540, so BB were buried in a grave where the shrine once stood. But that’s not all! In 1831 a new tomb, made from polished limestone, was built on top of BB, and an inscription in Latin was carved into it. Then, in 1970, a quote from one of Bede’s prayers was placed above BB in both Latin and English, and this is the text used here. It is beautifully performed by Ars Nova Copenhagen.


The Stabat Mater was written for the unusual combination of three voices and string trio (the liner notes don’t say who sits out from the quartet, but it sounds to me like the second violin). It follows much the same musical structure as Veni Creator, The Deer’s Cry, Psalom, and several of the other works on this disc, except that there are periods in which the string trio plays rhythmically sprightly passages and there are more, and longer, pauses within the vocal writing. For once, one can say without fear of contradiction that the ethereal, almost unearthly quality of the performances here are entirely apropos to the music; moreover, the solo voices, especially that of soprano Else Torp, have exceptionally well-focused timbres that in turn focus the music like a laser beam."

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

1.
Stabat Mater by Arvo Pärt
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Theatre of Voices,  Ars Nova Copenhagen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985; Estonia 
2.
Solfeggio by Arvo Pärt
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Theatre of Voices,  Ars Nova Copenhagen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1964; Estonia 
3.
Psalom by Arvo Pärt
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Theatre of Voices,  Ars Nova Copenhagen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1991/1993 
4.
Peace Upon You, Jerusalem by Arvo Pärt
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Theatre of Voices,  Ars Nova Copenhagen
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2002 
5.
My Heart's in Highlands by Arvo Pärt
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Theatre of Voices,  Ars Nova Copenhagen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2000 
6.
Most Holy Mother of God by Arvo Pärt
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Theatre of Voices,  Ars Nova Copenhagen
7.
Ein Wallfahrtslied by Arvo Pärt
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Theatre of Voices,  Ars Nova Copenhagen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1984; Estonia 
8.
Veni creator spiritus by Arvo Pärt
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Theatre of Voices,  Ars Nova Copenhagen
9.
The Deer's Cry by Arvo Pärt
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Theatre of Voices,  Ars Nova Copenhagen
10.
Morning Star by Arvo Pärt
Conductor:  Paul Hillier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Theatre of Voices,  Ars Nova Copenhagen

Featured Sound Samples

Peace Upon You, Jerusalem
Morning Star

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