Paul Hilliar's Theatre Of Voices - Arvo Part: De Profundis

Monday 1st December 1997
Paul Hilliar's Theatre Of Voices - Arvo Part: De Profundis
Paul Hilliar's Theatre Of Voices - Arvo Part: De Profundis

STYLE: Classical
RATING 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9
LABEL: Harmonia Mundi 907182

Reviewed by John Irvine

For Arvo Part the human voice is the most perfect instrument of all, hence his fascination with writing choral music. Part's unearthly "tintinnabuli" style of composition draws upon two of the most fundamental aspects of tonal music - the scale and the triad - a style that is frequently likened to mediaeval music. Part is a contemporary composer: it's just that his sense of "now" encompasses fourth century chant, early polyphony, Bach, Mozart and Britten. This collection contains some of Part's finest writing for the human voice, here supported by only the most necessary of accompaniment: church organ and percussion. "De Profundis" (1980) is an impassioned and yet simple vocal setting of Psalm 129 where the voices climb out of the very depths of despair, with a funereal drum beat. Immediately we are drawn into an atmosphere of impassioned worship and reverence. "Miss Sillabica" (1977, revised 1996) is an unusual piece where Part literally draws the text out of the music: there is a note for each syllable, an the pitch of the note is determined by the length of each of the words of the text. The effect is stunning. The atmospherics are continued in the unaccompanied chant "And One Of The Pharisees" (1990), a setting for three voices of Luke Chapter seven which bears more than a passing resemblance to the purity of Gregorian Chant, slow and reverent, an approach to be contrasted with the joyous "Summa" (1997) with the Latin words of the Credo spinning round and round as free as the breeze. The performance by the Theatre Of Voices is as near faultless as is humanly possible. The Theatre Of Voices is a vocal group founded by Paul Hillier, whose close friendship and collaborations with Part have resulted in many outstanding and indeed award winning recordings, and this collection looks like being no exception to the rule. The recording itself is wonderfully spacious, if a little quiet: not a problem on CD, but beware if you buy this on tape. The programme is tried and tested with staunch favourites "Summa", "Magnificat", and "De Profundis" headlining a collection of fairly well known pieces. Indeed, perhaps the pieces selected here are a little too tried and tested. There is little new material and even the world premier recording of "And One Of The Pharisees" was beaten to the shops by Paul Hillier's old mates the Hilliard Ensemble (reviewed in CR38). This is probably one of the best vocal collections for beginners, but there is little here to surprise collectors of Part recordings. However, performance wise, this is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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