Baltic Voices in Ireland: Arvo Pärt’s World Premiere

Review of Baltic Voices in Ireland: Arvo Pärt St Peter’s Church of Ireland, Drogheda from the Irish Times 15.2.08

Georgs Pelecis – Death is defeated by death. I See His Blood upon the Rose.
Deirdre McKay
– Comendo spiritum meum.
Arvo Pärt
– Summa. The Deer’s Cry. Da Pacem Domine. Für Alina. Variationen zur Gesündung von Arinuschka. Spiegel im Spiegel. Fratres. Magnificat. Sieben Magnificat-Antiphonen. Bogoróditse dyévo.
The music of Estonia’s leading composer Arvo Pärt couples simplicity with rigour. He’s not the first composer to have exploited the common arpeggio at its most basic. Two of the most famous examples from earlier centuries come from Bach (the opening Prelude of his Well-Tempered Clavier ) and Beethoven (the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata). What makes Pärt exceptional in modern times is that he’s shown how to manage the same feat while appealing to the widest audience and yet neatly avoid the trap of banality.Not all performers of his work actually help him in the avoidance of the trap. ArvoThe patterns of works such as Spiegel im Spiegelfor violin and piano are so clear, the musical material so simple, that it’s not always easy to reach convincingly to what lies below the surface. There’s a crucial hint in the composer’s statement that “it is enough when a single note is beautifully played”. That hint was fully explored in the best performances of Louth Contemporary Music Society’s Baltic Voices in Ireland: Arvo Pärt concert in Drogheda on Wednesday.Pärt’s specially commissioned The Deer’s Cry , a setting of St Patrick’s Breastplate , seems a perfect match of words and music. The reiterations of the text, the chordal patterns of the music with their mixture of strictness and unpredictability, and the freer movement of the overarching soprano line, were delivered by the Latvian State Choir, Latvija, with uncommon beauty under Fergus Sheil.His handling of the remaining choral works by Pärt was rather chillier, even at times mechanistic, by comparison with the results he achieved in The Deer’s Cry . He returned to top form for the closing Bogoróditse dyévo .
The instrumental works played by Ioana Petcu-Colan (violin) and Michael McHale (piano) were offered as an uninterrupted sequence in which every phrase, every curve, every caress, every outburst, was shown as if were the most treasurable of precious stones. I have heard both of these musicians on numerous occasions, but never before have I encountered their music-making when it burned with such inspiration.In the terrifyingly exposed challenges that Pärt provides for violinists, Petcu-Colan even managed to capture the spirit of an earlier era of virtuoso writing while remaining true to the spirit of the music. And McHale showed how to dispense completely with the associations of the piano as an essentially percussive instrument. In the three opening works, including the new pieces by Latvian Georgs Pelecis and Irish composer Deirdre McKay, the excellent Latvian choir was conducted by one of its own conductors, Maris Sirmais. McKay’s specially commissionedComendo spiritum meum is conceived as a layered, slowly-shifting drone out of which the words coalesce and rise to intense heights.Pelecis’s I See His Blood Upon the Rose , another commission, is a slow, atmospheric piece which dwells on and hypnotically repeats the words. His earlier Death is Defeated by Death , the only work for which texts and translations were not provided, had a jolliness that might not be immediately inferred from its title. – Michael Dervan

The Irish Examiner 16.02.08

Arvo Part, Baltic Voices in Ireland St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dundalk

This was the second of back-to-back concerts presented with rewarding ambition by the Louth Contemporary Music Society (LCMS) and featuring the music of possibly the world’s most popular living composer, Arvo Part, who was in attendance.

Part’s broad appeal is to do with the spirituality he invokes for listeners living in secular times, and with his self-declared aesthetic that “it is enough when a single note is beautifully played”.

These features were all on full view in the piece specially commissioned by the LCMS and receiving its world premiere at these concerts: The Deer’s Cry, a setting for mixed voices of St. Patrick’s Breastplate.

A long, sustained soprano melody flowed like a wide, mature river over shifting and eventually overlapping patterns of repetitions in the lower male voices of Christ with me, Christ before me, etc.

It was beautifully sung in near-flawless English by the Latvian State Choir under Fergus Sheil, matching the intensity achieved by the choir’s own conductor, Maris Sirmais, with whom he shared the concert.

The full programme included three further world premieres of LCMS commissions, including a fine, contemplative setting Commendo spiritum meum by Deirdre McKay.

Threatening to steal the show was a selection of five Part pieces for violin and piano performed with singular expressivity by Ioana Petcu Colan and Michael McHale.

Michael Dungan