ARVO PÄRT MUSICA SELECTA A Sequence by Manfred Eicher

Of all the longstanding relationships built between its artists and Manfred Eicher, the musical partnership of ECM Records' founder/primary producer and Estonian composer Arvo Pärt—who turned 80 years old on September 11, 2015—has to be one of the label's most important and fruitful. Certainly, amidst ECM's more composition-focused New Series imprint, there are few others whose collaborations with Eicher have proven to be so personally meaningful, so groundbreaking and so emotionally resonant. While Eicher worked in the classical world prior to launching the label's New Series imprint with Pärt's Tabula Rasa in 1984—specifically, beyond being double bassist in a symphony orchestra before starting the label in 1969, his work with early minimalist trendsetter Steve Reich, whose Music for 18 Musicians (1978), Octet; Music for Large Ensemble; Violin Phase (1980) and Tehillim (1982) would later be reissued on CD within the New Series sphere—it was Pärt's early, innovative work that both captured Eicher's ear and drove him to reach out to the composer, beginning a musical partnership that has yielded a baker's dozen of exceptional recordings under the composer's name over the past three decades, and a further two that bring Pärt compositions together with the likes of Philip Glass, Peter Maxwell Davies, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Werner Bärtschi and others whose music spans three centuries and only serves to demonstrate the sheer timelessness of Pärt's work. 
There are others who have released recordings of Pärt's music, but none have benefitted from the composer's collaboration with a producer who stands out as a rare entity, actively involved in the artists' process of making music. Eicher also stands out as a producer with the rare gift of being able to sequence music in a way that makes a recording more than a collection of separate pieces; instead, Eicher's sequencing ensures that ECM recordings—whether for the more improv-centric regular series or form-based New Series—possess an arc that makes them best experienced as a whole: stories, then, with a most distinct beginning, middle and end.
It's a skill that was particularly on display when Eicher personally selected and sequenced music for a series of listening stations at Munich's Haus der Kunst, which curated the ECM: A Cultural Archeology exhibition and series of concerts that ran from November, 2012 through to early February, 2013, and was documented in a lavish and informative book by the same name, along with the six-disc Selected Signs III-VIII (ECM, 2014), which collected Eicher's playlists into a revelatory box set of music that drew connections between seemingly disparate musics that few but someone intimately involved in their creation would hear...but which become perfectly clear upon listening.
Celebrating Pärt's 80th birthday and three decades of shared collaboration , Musica Selecta: A Sequence by Manfred Eicher is a well-stocked two-CD set the brings together eighteen pieces from twelve recordings released under Pärt's name, along with one previously unreleased composition, all selected and sequenced by Eicher to be, as the producer says in suitably sparse liner notes, "heard and experienced in a sequence. Each episode offers an insight into our shared journey. Together they evoke new associations, as the journey goes on. From long ago thus singing... begins the Clemens Brentano poem whose setting by Arvo introduces my sequence on this album. Like Brentano's nightingale, the music continues to sing."
And sing the entire 140-minute program does, whether literally on tracks like the referenced opener, "Es sang vor langen Jahren," which features soprano Susan Bickley, sparsely but sublimely supported by violinist Gidon Kremer and violist Vladimir Mendelssohn and first heard on Arbos (1987), or on wholly instrumental pieces like "Festina Lente," from 1991's Miserere—which, like all of the music on Musica Selecta, is founded on Pärt's tintinnabulism, a self-developed and continually honed compositional technique rooted in (and can thus be considered as) minimalism, but which shares little of the strong pulses that so often defined minimalist works by Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Terry Riley.
Instead, tintinnabulism—initially inspired by chant music—is exquisitely meditative music largely predicated on slow tempi and typified by two voices: one, the tintinnabular voice, which arpeggiates the tonic triad; and the second, which moves diatonically in a stepwise motion. Pärt's early exploration of this technique reveals tintinnabulism perhaps most clearly on "Für Alina," first performed in Tallinn in 1976 but only released on Alina in 1999, where pianist Alexander Malter performs the piece twice, the two versions both bookended and separated by three versions of the similarly sparse "Spiegel im Spiegel," where the pianist is joined by clarinetist Vladimir Spivakov. Musica Selecta includes the first version of "Für Alina," a piece that almost defies possibility by starting out very quietly...and becoming even quieter as it develops, until there's barely anything left at all.
"Für Alina" perfectly exemplifies the description that Pärt's wife, Nora, has provided to explain the foundation of tintinnabulism, being "born from a deeply rooted desire for an extremely reduced sound world which could not be measured, as it were, in kilometres, or even metres, but only in millimetres....By the end the listening attention is utterly focused. At the point after the music has faded away it is particularly remarkable to hear your breath, your heartbeat, the lighting or the air conditioning system, for example." (John Kelman)

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