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Humility, surrender, transcendence

Arvo Pärt’s transcendent music is always a deep experience, demanding attention and engagement from the listener. And whilst the musical lines may seem simple, they are not simplistic, and leave nowhere for musician or singer to hide. Without fidelity and surrender, his music can seem like some kind of technical exercise. Which is very very far from what it is.

Being lucky enough to attend a recent concert performance of Passio, sent me back to listen to The Hilliard Ensemble rendition, conductor Paul Hillier. This is a long piece, and not one for our InstaGratification Hummable Tunes culture. It is not, in any way, a ‘background piece’ and unfolds itself through its single, 70 minute, unbroken movement. How can ‘The Passion’ be properly realised, glimmeringly felt, if the journey is not undertaken, and ‘snapshot moments’ only are listened to on the hoof?

This music in its purity and careful threading and weaving, requires an extraordinary precision and control to hold the length, flow and placement of the close, dissonant harmonies.

From the crushing, almost overwhelmingly heavy opening of the piece, hopeless, doom laden, arises beautiful, single threads of music and voices, offering, surely some tenderness, some way out of despair, despite suffering. The bass, solo lines of Jesus are steadfast and firm, and musically give a kind of foundation for the other voices, and musical lines to relate to. To sorrowfully, tenderly, and in the end – not quite triumphally, but with the possibility of achieving something hopeful, out of pain, out of despair, soar. The end both breaks, and releases, the heart.

This is indeed a fabulous rendition. Though the experience, of course, of a live performance – The Façade Ensemble, conductor Benedict Collins Rice, offers an intensity that solitary attentiveness to a recording, can never do

This particular version may no longer be easily available as a new CD, though market place (used) copies are available or download on MP3. And of course, though the technical quality might be somewhat flawed, you can at least hear it on You Tube

The Hilliard Ensemble, alas, disbanded three years ago. Oh that I had ever heard them deliver this live!Paul Hillier was a founder member of The Hilliards and, later of Theatre of Voices. Hilliard was named for the Elizabethan miniaturist, I believe, rather than for Hillier, though perhaps the connection suggested itself

Arvo Pärt Passio Amazon UK
Arvo Pärt Passio Amazon USA