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'Lamentate': Two Sides to Arvo Pärt's Art

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

A new CD features two new works by one of the world's most honored composers. He is Arvo Part, an Estonian, and the new CD is called "Lamentate." Our music critic Tom Manoff has a review.

TOM MANOFF reporting:

In 1988, I found myself seated at a banquet table with Arvo Part and his wife. The occasion was an after-concert reception at a contemporary music festival in Germany. Everyone at the table was being pressed by an especially obnoxious waiter to make a quick choice from the menu. The composer and his wife refused to be rushed. They discussed each entree at length, and even as others finished their meals, they still pondered, the exasperated waiter hovering above them.

I always remember that night when thinking about Arvo Part's music, because Arvo Part's world doesn't run on contemporary time or its demands. His is a more archaic world. It's a private realm whose slow-paced rhythms create the deep structure of his music.

(Soundbite of music and choir)

MANOFF: "Da Pacem Domine," the first work on this CD, is a short prayer set in long, meditative gestures. When Arvo Part composes in this style, he seems simply a voice through which the quiet sounds of the universe are made audible. It's performed by the Hilliard Ensemble.

(Soundbite of music and choir)

MANOFF: Besides his choral work, there's another piece on this CD and it takes up most of the recording. Set for piano and orchestra, it's called "Lamentate," and this music shows another side of Arvo Part, a musical style far more muscular and even epic in character.

(Soundbite of music)

MANOFF: The spiritual base for Arvo Part's music is the Russian Orthodox Church, and "Lamentate," although it's not sung, is based in part on a Slavic hymn whose words are written into the score. The hymn recounts the journey of the soul at the end of life. What may surprise listeners familiar with the composer's more meditative style is the angst expressed in this music, but the turmoil is both necessary and beautiful in the overall musical drama.

(Soundbite of music)

MANOFF: "Lamentate" is performed by the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra, conducted by Andrey Boreyko. The pianist is Alexei Lumbimov. Here he plays a simple lyrical theme that recurs throughout the work as emotional relief.

(Soundbite of music)

MANOFF: Much of Arvo Part's music, like the man himself, seems from the past. "Lamentate," on the other hand, is decidedly contemporary and it gives us insight into the complete range of Arvo Part's musical world. None of us, it seems, can live always outside our time, no matter how alluring that dream might be.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: The music is from Arvo Part. Our reviewer is Tom Manoff. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Manoff
Composer and author Tom Manoff has been the classical music critic for NPR's All Things Considered since 1985.