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Music by Arvo Pärt -
reviewed by REX HARLEY

'... all the air and spaciousness one needs ...'

Arvo Pärt: Tabula Rasa - Symphony No 3. © 2000 William Copper

Let it be said at the outset that any criticisms I have of this CD have nothing to do with performance or, for that matter, the quality of the recording. My reservations relate solely to the programming and therefore, inevitably to the intrinsic worth of the pieces on offer.

None of which applies to the opening work, Pärt's famous Tabula Rasa [listen -- track 2, 9:08-10:32], written back in the late seventies for violinists Gidon Kramer and Tatiana Grindenko. The original recording, on ECM, is still arguably the best, although, listening to it again I find myself increasingly irritated by the occasional coughs and splutters of the audience: the piece was recorded live for German Radio. This is less noticeable during the first movement, Ludus, but ironically obvious during the second, Silencium.

Tabula Rasa is still the quintessential work in Pärt's tintinnabuli style, and there is no better summary of what this music is about than the composer's own:

'Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers -- in my life, my music, my work. In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning. The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises -- and everything that is unimportant falls away. Tintinnabulation is like this. Here I am alone with silence. I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comfort me. I work with very few elements -- with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials -- with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I called it tintinnabulation.'

The violinists in this recording -- Leslie Hatfield and Rebecca Hirsch -- are entirely sympathetic performers. The piece takes at least two minutes less in their hands than with the original performers, but the performance feels in no way cramped. There is all the air and spaciousness one needs, and a genuine sense of the spirituality which informs Pärt's writing. The string section of the Ulster Orchestra is equally impressive, as is the player of the prepared piano who, unfairly, remains anonymous.

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Copyright © 4 January 2004 Rex Harley, Cardiff UK


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