Paul Hillier/Theatre of Voices & Pro Arte Singers
I Am The True Vine
Harmonia Mundi (www.harmoniamundi.com)
The career of this now famous composer has gathered such momentum that release of World Premiere recordings has become an annual fact. Yet, Arvo Part remains married to some ineffable force that will not permit anything but unclamoring, lean, yet substantive music to issue from his hand. Far from the earlier works of suffering, the collection of "I Am The True Vine" resonates with affirming peace. Three recently composed premieres are included, the title work, The Woman With The Alabaster Box, and Tribute to Caesar, along with a holier, reworked Berliner Mass for chamber choir and organ (Christopher Bowers-Broadbent) differing considerably from the orchestrated version entered on 1995's "Te Deum".
The first half of the set is performed by the student-comprised Pro Arte Singers while Hillier's working ensemble Theatre of Voices presents Berliner Mass. Bogoroditse Djevo opens this collection of 6 works all from the 1990s, sparkling with the brightness and vivacity of Russian folk choral singing, and delivering the albums most pleasant surprise. "I Am The True Vine, Ode IX" - a kernel from the massive Kanon Pokajanen, and the two other new works named follow, all offering the clockless reverence and yearning, the distinctively austere and now calming mixture of which marks the Estonian's recent a cappella repertoire. The penetrating, darkness-splitting soprano of Ellen Hargis helps lift her collaborators Steven Rickards, Allen Bennett, Paul Elliot and Paul Hillier, and the revised Berliner Masse, to luminous heights. Hillier may be one of the few choirmasters who commands the requisite range of influence (a mere millennium's worth) evident in Arvo Part's work, and can direct world-class talent into the kind of immaculate unison and eerie, unerring tone that makes the collective Part choral records truly special. This USA production's astoundingly smooth presentation, finest no/low-vibrato vocals and Part's healing scores drawn upon poetic biblical supplications, make this the most effortlessly soothing sacred choral disc one could wish for pascal listening. - Steve Taylor