Pärt: The Four Symphonies

Reviewed on Mon 16 Jul, 2018

Sterling, steely, sinewy and supple performances from the NFM Wrocław Philharmonic under Pärt’s long-time champion Tõnu Kaljuste make a substantial claim for an overlooked body of work.

Gathered together on disc for the first time (and in chronological order), Arvo Pärt’s four symphonies provide a fascinating aside to the ascetic Estonian’s diaphanous instrumental music and plangent choral works. Sterling, steely, sinewy and supple performances from the NFM Wrocław Philharmonic under Pärt’s long-time champion Tõnu Kaljuste make a substantial claim for an overlooked body of work. The three early symphonies – dating from 1964, 1966 and 1971 – chart a progression from the raw, hard-edged, 12-note accents of the ‘Polyphonic’ First (composed under the influence of Heino Eller) via the atomised, compact Second to the emerging preoccupations with the tenets of Holy Minimalism that Pärt came to embody in the Third. Composed as recently as 2008, the grave and graceful Fourth Symphony, titled Los Angeles (and here recorded live in concert), situates itself squarely, and persuasively, in the familiar world of Pärt’s signature numinous ethereality. ECM’s characteristically excellent recorded sound adds depth and definition to vividly-voiced performances.
–Michael Quinn