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Arvo Pärt (2013)

Byrd Ensemble, directed by Markdavin Obenza


Released October 2013

iTunes, Spotify

CD Booklet (PDF)



Markdavin Obenza, director


1. Seven Magnificat Antiphons: O Weisheit

2. Seven Magnificat Antiphons: O Adonai

3. Seven Magnificat Antiphons: O Sproß aus Isais Wurzel

4. Seven Magnificat Antiphons: O Sclüssel Davids

5. Seven Magnificat Antiphons: O Morgenstern

6. Seven Magnificat Antiphons: O König aller Völker

7. Seven Magnificat Antiphons: O Immanuel

8. I Am the True Vine

9. The Woman with the Alabaster Box

10. Tribute to Caesar

11. Berlin Mass: Kyrie

12. Berlin Mass: Gloria

13. Berlin Mass: Erster Alleluiavers zum Weihnachtsfest

14. Berlin Mass: Zweiter Alleluiavers zum Weihnachtsfest

15. Berlin Mass: Erster Alleluiavers zum Pfingstfest

16. Berlin Mass: Zweiter Alleluiavers zum Pfingstfest

17. Berlin Mass: Veni Sancte Spiritus

18. Berlin Mass: Credo

19. Berlin Mass: Sanctus

20. Berlin Mass: Agnus Dei

21. Magnificat



​It is hard to remember a time when the name Arvo Pärt was not a familiar one to the concertgoing and CD-buying public around the world—and yet it has been not even 35 years since this composer, 45 years old and only beginning by then to develop an international reputation, emigrated to the West from his native Estonia. 


What happened next—thanks in part, one would guess, to a series of releases by the German record label ECM that quickly became vastly popular—is one of the more remarkable success stories of late twentieth-century music. What is even more remarkable, perhaps, about this achievement is that Pärt’s entire career up to that point had showed him seemingly bent on avoiding success, on deliberately going against the prevailing grain.


As a much younger composer, Pärt had written twelve-tone music when this technique, thought by the Soviet artistic establishment to be infected by Western-influenced “formalism,” was severely frowned upon; later, when such “advanced” approaches had become acceptable, he turned to religious themes, setting off a new round of disapproval. Nor did the first pieces in his new style of the late 1970s seem destined to win him much acclaim, judging from their initial, rather mixed reception. 


Pärt is now probably the most famous of the group of composers classified in the critics’ lexicon as the mystical minimalists (or, sometimes and more pejoratively, the “holy minimalists”), along with John Tavener, Henryk Górecki, and a number of others. Like most such classifications, it is misleading in certain ways. First of all, Pärt’s mature style developed in near-complete isolation and can be said to resemble only fortuitously those of other composers of whom he is sometimes spoken in the same breath. Second, minimalism in the strict sense is an American phenomenon, characterized by a specific aesthetic orientation that is quite antithetical to the sensibilities of Pärt or, for that matter, of Tavener, Górecki, or others placed in the “mystical” classification. What these Europeans do share with one another, and with the American minimalists, is a strong proclivity for simplification of the materials and means of musical composition, seemingly in reaction to and rejection of the notorious complexities of the high modernism that dominated contemporary music during the decades following the end of World War II. Historically speaking, such reductionist developments are nothing new (one thinks of the abandonment of the elaborate schemes of Renaissance counterpoint as the early Baroque got under way around 1600, or the oblivion suffered by J.S. Bach’s work after his death in 1750 as musicians gravitated to the galant and early Classical styles), but the desire to simplify as it emerged in some of the most distinctive compositional voices of the late twentieth century may well have been more radical than any comparable movement in the past.


- Jonathan W. Bernard

Arvo Pärt (2013)


    "..., this recording creates the illusion of hearing the music for the first time.  The small size and the clear, fresh voices of the Byrd Ensemble, an American group with a strong background in Renaissance music, mean that the dissonanaces and their consequent resolutions in the Seven Magnificat Antiphons and the Magnificat in particular are brought into focus in a truly remarkable way." 
    "The precision of the performances, and the great attention paid to the enunciation of the texts, does not mean that they are cold or uninvolving, however: there is also a sense of space, of unhurriedness, that lets the music breathe."
    "The Berlin Mass also receives a wonderfully crystalline performance, with organ registrations very sensitively chosen by Sheila Bristow, but for me it is theMagnificat and the Antiphons that show best the Byrd Ensemble’s ability to enter into the spirit of this music, simultaneously ‘stripped’ and loaded with meaning. Highly recommended."
    Moody, Ivan. “Reviews.” Gramophone Magazine May 2014.

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