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The remaining items on this disc are two earlier pieces: Collage über BACH and Symphony No 3. Now, in one way this is a bold move. Rather than being offered well-known works in a similar style to Tabula Rasa, we are given the chance to explore further; to retrace the steps that the composer himself took on his long, and often discouraging musical journey.

Collage über BACH, sees him emerging from his serialist period, and the piece sounds what it is: an experiment -- a necessary piece in the jigsaw of his development. It could be a minor work by Lutoslawski. It could be, and indeed is, a minor work by Arvo Pärt. Symphony No 3 is a more expansive, more fully developed piece which emerged from a protracted period of study of chant and early polyphony. Pärt himself has referred to it as a 'joyous piece of music' but not 'the end of my despair and my search', and it certainly has its moments. However, even at its best this symphony feels like a thoughtful and imaginative pastiche of its sources [listen -- track 8, 0:00-1:15]: a rather grander version of something like Poulenc's take on Arbeau's dances from Orchesographie. And, at its least successful, timpani bang away bombastically and the music starts to sound like the sound-track of a pseudo-mediaeval film, complete with Tony Curtis in a tin suit of armour. The best moments are those given to the brass, which take the role of the human voice, raised in praise.

And that's it. Three pieces, the best at the beginning; and the whole thing adding up to just over fifty minutes' music -- a notably abstemious piece of programming for the usually generous Naxos. The booklet notes too are short, and also dry and over-technical. These may seem carping criticisms; after all, you don't have to part with much money. But the whole thing seems to me to be a piece of well-intentioned misjudgment. Somehow the didactic has overwhelmed the aesthetic. It may be a good idea to educate us, so we understand more of Pärt's musical development, but I suspect that those who want to listen to Tabula Rasa will find the other pieces unsatisfying. They are, in a sense, juvenilia, whatever the composer's chronological age when writing them; curiosity pieces to play your friends as part of a quiz.

That said, you may wish to sample early Pärt. And even if you don't, at its bargain price I have to admit that this CD could well be worth the getting for Tabula Rasa alone [listen -- track 1, 8:42-9:47].

Copyright © 4 January 2004 Rex Harley, Cardiff UK


Arvo Pärt: Orchestral Works

8.554591 DDD Stereo 52'18" 2000 HNH International Ltd

Ulster Orchestra; Takuo Yuasa, conductor; Leslie Hatfield, violin; Rebecca Hirsch, violin

Tabula Rasa; Collage über BACH; Symphony No 3


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