Wednesday, February 23, 2000

Tintinnabulation

Posted By on Wed, Feb 23, 2000 at 12:00 AM

The two pieces on this latest Arvo Pärt offering from ECM are hinges in the Estonian composer’s oeuvre. Before "Für Alina" ("For Alina"), Pärt wrote serial music (as in Schoenberg, Webern, etc.). But after this stark work for piano, he embarked on a lifelong pilgrimage through endless metaphysical silences, with only his ear and the simplest triadic tonal relationships to guide him.

Feeling his way into "Für Alina" the way one walks out onto a frozen lake after a thaw, Pärt began his musical life all over again with what sounds at first like a music box or an exercise for a very young piano student. Breathlessly, with only the slightest variation in dynamic levels, the tones of the piano become the delicate ringing of church bells. Here, at the whispered core of Pärt’s sensibility, is the meditative reference point for such massive choral and symphonic works as his Te Deum, Arbos and Litany. Those compositions ultimately have the same relationship to silence as does this solo work (Pärt’s silence, a palpable expanse of sonic antimatter, is radically different from John Cage’s – whose silence is the illusory but fertile emptiness of the blank page – and closer to that of Morton Feldman.)

Sandwiched between and around two profoundly quiet renditions of "Für Alina" (by Alexander Malter) are three performances of "Spiegel im Spiegel" ("Mirror in Mirror"), first on violin and piano, then cello and piano, and finally violin and piano again. The cumulative effect is elemental and mesmerizing, and will probably drive impatient listeners crazy.

Vladimir Spivakov (violin), Sergej Bezrodny (piano), Dietmar Schwalke (cello) and Malter (piano) give these pivotal works the devoted concentration they deserve.

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