Pärt’s Magnificat & Stabat Mater

Review by: David Vernier


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

There are plenty of first-rate recordings of these works available, particularly the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, but who’s going to complain about a new one that delivers a slightly different perspective–that is, one created by a minimal vocal ensemble (eight voices), well-tailored to Pärt’s famously minimal scoring? The voices are (happily) very well-matched, and their favorable blend and balance often leads you to forget how many (or few) of them there are. You just enjoy the sound—both for its fullness and textural clarity, as well as for the special quality that comes from a handful rather than a roomful of compatible voices resonating.

While the Magnificat, Nunc dimittis, and Maria antiphons are all finely sung, the Stabat Mater—heard less frequently, probably due to its uncommon scoring for three voices and three strings—is the highlight, showing in luminous detail the beauty of particular voices—soprano Wendy Roobol, alto Hugo Naessens, and tenor Falco van Loon (great names, all!)—as well as the three singers’ exceptional technical and interpretive mastery. I was not familiar with this ensemble, Le Nuove Musiche, before, and its earlier claim to fame is a 12-disc set of Monteverdi madrigals. All available clues suggest that this is a Netherlands-based group, but good luck trying to find out much at the ensemble’s website: strewn with an odd and unhelpful mix of (mostly) Dutch and (occasional) English, its contents are certain to leave most sincerely inquisitive browsers frustrated and still uninformed. There is virtually no information about the group—other than a composite of individual head-shot photos—in the disc’s liner notes.

Oh well. The music and the singing are very good, and give no reason to disappoint either the newcomer or the experienced Pärt listener, even if there’s nothing here in the performances of the Magnificat, Nunc dimittis, and antiphons that elevates them beyond the existing reference versions. If you happen to be new to Pärt’s music you will find a substantial commentary on various works in our reviews archive, from which an excerpt, describing some of the music’s unique characteristics, concludes this review:

“The bias toward minor thirds in both melodic and harmonic contexts, the pervasive use of antiphonal choral effects, the chord inversions that give a sense of suspended time, the slow-moving harmonic changes unbound by traditional metrical or temporal constraints–all of these in some way define Pärt’s post-1976 music. But ultimately, the proof is in receptive, un-analytical listening, and no matter how many times you hear Pärt’s works, each time you’re somehow carried beyond an expected esthetic experience to a more spiritual place–whether you want to be or not.”

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Magnificat; Nunc dimittis; 7 Magnificat Antiphons: Tallis Scholars/Phillips (Gimell), Magnificat; Nunc dimittis: Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir/Hillier (Harmonia Mundi), Stabat Mater: This one

    Magnificat (1989); Nunc dimittis (2001); Maria Antifonen (1988, 1991); Stabat Mater (1985)

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