BR Klassik collected performances of its Bavarian Radio Chorus and the Munich Radio Orchestra (the little sister of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra) from between 2000 and 2011 and has turned them into an attractive sampler of the Estonian composer’s nouveau-sacred choral music, plus two instrumental works. We get Arvo Pärt the spiritual “tintinnabuli” minimalist in the grand, powerful Cecilia, vergine romana under Ulf Schirmer. We get Pärt the archaic post-Orffian in Litany under Marcello Viotti aided by the Hilliard Ensemble in good shape in 2000. We get Pärt the austere, fantasy-monastic polyphonist with the Seven Magnificat Antiphons under Peter Dijkstra. We get Pärt the neo-baroque composer in Collage sur B-A-C-H, for Strings, Oboe, Harpsichord, and Piano, which sounds a good deal like Schnittke, actually, in how it meanders between quotes of the real thing and harmonically melded modern interpolations. (That’s conducted by Robert King.)
Despite the 11-year span of these live recordings and four different churches used as locations, the album’s aural impression is uniform, the sound very good, and the singing crisp and up to the high standards of this phenomenal professional chorus. The unaccompanied Seven Magnificat Antiphons, led by Peter Dijkstra, are specifically excellent. Reference-quality, in fact. But with similarly precise (if generally less grand-sounding) and equally recommendable recordings from Sigvards Klava (Ondine), Peter Philips (Gimell), Tõnu Kaljuste (Erato), Paul Hillier (Harmonia Mundi), and Marcus Creed (SWR Music), that work also faces the strongest competition out there. Nor does there seem to be a bad recording of the Cantus in Memoriam of Benjamin Britten (scored for string orchestra and bell), but Ulf Schirmer gets its hypnotic quality right from the bell’s first gongs.
The remaining works on this disc, meanwhile, only have one or two other recordings, adding interest to the BR Klassik release on repertoire-grounds beyond its obvious performance merits. Cecilia and Litany can be found with Tönu Kaljuste on separate releases from ECM. Collage sur B-A-C-H, that de-facto concerto grosso for strings, oboe, cembalo, and piano, also exists on a BIS recording with Jean-Jacques Kantorow and on an older Chandos Neeme Järvi recording. So if you don’t have all of those, grab this release. And if you do, you’re evidently enough of a Pärt-admirer to still want to have these splendid performances, too.