- Author: Ivan Moody
- Publication: Gramophone
This is, on the surface, a decidedly odd coupling of works. The disc begins with a series of four pieces by Pärt, sung to the perfection one would expect by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir in this repertoire; indeed, I think I have never herd Solfeggio sung so well. The least-known pieces will certainly be the German-texted Zwei Beter from 1998, which set texts from the Gospel of St Luke and which I think have largely escaped the attention of Anglophone choirs. They are in the tradition of the very direct word-setting familiar from The Woman with the Alabaster Box, written one year earlier and recorded here immediately after. This is instructive indeed in terms of how the composer works with different languages; there is in these German settings an emotional immediacy that is not, I would say, a characteristic of his work in English. And pay attention to the ‘Amen’!
Liszt’s musical vocabulary is, of course, very far removed from that of Pärt, and it requires quite a leap to move from The Woman with the Alabaster Box to Via Crucis. Liszt’s sacred music is still very much underrated, certainly, and that has, I am sure, a great deal to do with his being viewed as a virtuoso pianist and symphonic composer whose work in this field is eccentric and not part of his main trajectory. Such a view is unbalanced and unfounded; the composer took his compositions on religious themes with the utmost seriousness and they contain, in many respects, some of his most remarkable music. Anyone familiar with Liszt’s vocabulary-stretching piano music will not be surprised by the unexpected turns of Via Crucis, but it is the combination of this adventurousness with a simplicity born of a deep faith that makes the work unique. And the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir seem to grasp this intuitively, as does pianist Kalle Randalu, who never imposes himself so as to dominate the work. Quite the opposite, in fact; he turns in a performance of the most tremendous subtlety.
The strangeness notwithstanding, then, this is a disc to be treasured by admirers of Pärt, Liszt and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir in any combination.