ECM releases Arvo Pärt’s new album Tractus

The German record label ECM has released Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s latest original album Tractus, featuring his latest work performed by the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and soprano Maria Listra under the baton of conductor Tõnu Kaljuste; the US National Public Radio has named Tractus one of the ten best classical albums of 2023.

The new release, recorded in Tallinn in 2022, is Arvo Pärt’s seventeenth album in his long-standing collaboration with ECM producer Manfred Eicher, which began with the epochal Tabula rasa in 1984.

Curated by Kaljuste, the selection of Pärt’s pieces fuses the timbres and textures of choir and string orchestra. The works were composed over the last few decades and provide a cross-section of the composer’s more recent work, according to a representative of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir.

The album takes its name from the opening track, “Littlemore Tractus”, whose ethereal prayer verses set the mood for the entire collection. Reflecting on the twilight of life, this prayer encourages the listener to pause, reflect and find inner peace amidst the hustle and bustle of life.

The album takes its name from the opening track, “Littlemore Tractus”.

“Since Arvo Pärt has retired from active composition, some of his previously unrecorded works, which Arvo and I have often discussed in recent years, have been beckoning me from the shelves,” Tõnu Kaljuste said in a statement. “Our discussions with Arvo have revolved around new versions and past premieres. This album is a collection of both,” he added.

The album also features a brand-new arrangement. In the opening piece, “Littlemore Tractus”, originally written for choir and organ and alternatively titled ‘Swansong’ in its version for large symphony orchestra, Kaljuste unites the choir and chamber orchestra while retaining the sonic clarity of the original piece.

Arvo Pärt and Tõnu Kaljuste. Photo by Kaupo Kikkas.

Among the best classical albums of 2023

The US National Public Radio – known as the NPR – included Tractus among the ten best classical albums of 2023.

“Tõnu Kaljuste has been conducting performances of Arvo Pärt’s music with these forces (the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir) for three decades. For Tractus, he’s hand-picked a group of works by the composer that have the uncanny power to comfort and assuage. (It actually lowers my blood pressure. I’ve measured.) And given the violent state of our world these days, the album couldn’t come at a better time. That the pieces are all sacred matters little. Religious or not, you can feel the effects of music that is not just pretty, but rigorously constructed for heart and head,” the NPR’s Tom Huizenga wrote.

“Halfway through the opening track, ‘Littlemore Tractus’, something remarkable happens – the chorus finally takes flight, blossoming into pure sunlight. In this instance and many others throughout the album, you can witness the mysterious power of music to defy description in words. Like the warm blanket of strings that caresses you in the 7th of the ‘Greater Antiphons’, the dusky light that pokes through in ‘Veni creator’, the slightly unsettling thunder of the bass drum in ‘These Words’ and the lullaby of innocence that closes the album, you just feel it,” the review continued.

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