“Music is my friend, ever-understanding. Compassionate. Forgiving, it’s a comforter, the handkerchief for drying my tears of sadness, the source of my tears of joy. My liberation and flight. But also, a painful thorn in my flesh and soul, that which makes me sober and teaches humility.” Arvo Pärt
Modest about his achievements yet authentically convinced about the role of his music in today’s world, Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) is today’s most performed “classical” composer. For the past forty years, Pärt’s compositions have shown and spoken the influence of multiple layers and global influences – the music of the Orthodox Church, bells, Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, a compositional technique he developed called “tintinnabuli”, and…silence. This particular recording offers a unique cross-section of Pärt’s choral works, revealing the heart, soul and mind of a true master of his language in both text and music.
Gloriæ Dei Cantores (Singers to the Glory of God), under the direction of Richard K. Pugsley, is dedicated to promoting the best of sacred choral music. Several years ago, they began an in depth study of Arvo Pärt, immersing themselves in his compositional style. They sang his music in worship, on tour and in an extensive concert series at the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, MA. Their repertoire includes Arvo Pärt’s larger works such as Passio and Stabat Mater as well as the lesser known and performed L’abbé Agathon and Berliner Mass.
In this recording, the expressive beauty and clarity of Arvo Pärt's music shines through the joyful dance-like rhythms of Peace Upon You, Jerusalem and the glorious setting of Mary’s words in the Magnificat. The masterful L’abbé Agathon sets the scene of this ancient 4th century story of the chance (or was it?) meeting of the hermit Agathon and a leper. After several testings of the hermit’s patience and his generosity, the leper reveals himself to be an angel, and blesses the hermit Agathon, and goes on his way. The final work - a musical landmark in Pårt's career - is Stabat Mater, written to express the passion, agony, and love of Mary at the foot of the cross of her son.
Whether you are searching for refreshment, find yourself in an impossible situation, or ache in a deep place that is beyond what words can express, consider the words of Arvo Pärt, “Music is my friend, ever-understanding. Compassionate. Forgiving, it’s a comforter, the handkerchief for drying my tears of sadness, the source of my tears of joy."
- “***** FIVE STARS - An exquisite disc of choral music by Arvo Pärt”
There have been a number of recordings of Stabat Mater. This one stands near or at the top of the competitive pile. Although much of the music is marked by the typical inward-looking quietness we associate with Pärt, there are contrasting sections of great drama. Conductor Richard Pugsley and his choral and instrumental forces scale everything perfectly...This is music that presents the listener with both pain and consolation, and it is incumbent on the performers to figure out how to unite those contrasting elements. It is accomplished in large part by taking great care with transitions, whether they are transitions of tempo, color, or dynamics. The bridging from one mood to the other must be judicious and very thoughtfully handled.
There are many discs featuring Pärt’s choral writing...this is one of the finest...Their intonation is impeccable, their blending of voices is complete, and their ability to produce ethereal pianissimi while maintaining tonal body is very special. Pugsley keeps a firm pulse on music that could, and sometimes does, lose its shape under less capable hands. The recorded sound finds the right balance between spaciousness and clarity, and James E. Jordan’s notes are very informative. Finally, great praise to Gloriæ Dei Cantores for providing, on their own label, complete texts and translations. Recommended with enthusiasm.”
Henry Fogel, FANFARE
- “Gloriae Dei Cantores...under the direction of Richard K. Pugsley, interprets these works with great technical mastery (homogenity, attention to dynamics, phrasing)...creating pure atmospheres of enchantment, which truly touch the heart and soul of the listener, transporting them to a high and profound spiritual dimension. In this high-level context, the technical-vocal qualities, the interpretive sensitivity of the soloists, from the luminous sopranos...to the beautiful baritone timbre also stand out.”
GPOpera Magazine (Italy)
- “Arvo Part’s spiritual imagination infuses an exciting disc from Gloriæ Dei Cantores. In a substantial and gratifying recording by the Massachusetts ensemble Gloriæ Dei Cantores, it’s the variety of Part’s expressive powers over many decades, not the sameness, that shines through in six sacred works.
The Naxos disc...showcases virtuosic solo singing and ensemble cohesion. The whole is the sum and then some of its excellent constituent parts. Richard K. Pugsley conducts with clarity, sensitivity, and an instinct for high-impact moments. The performances throughout radiate conviction and urgency, a belief in every phrase that’s sung or played.”
San Francisco Classical Voice
- “This grave and beautiful new SACD...blows an unexpectedly warm breeze on the Estonian composer’s music...These works expand our knowledge of who Pärt is as a composer, and they are performed with great polish—but also with a purity that feels uniquely unaffected—by Gloriæ Dei Cantores and by soloists from the choir...There is a warmth here that one does not as readily hear in European recordings of these works. Indeed, the closing minutes of the Stabat Mater are heartbreaking on this new recording. Part of the reason, I think, is that the engineers have brought Gloriæ Dei Cantores into the foreground; the European recordings keep the singers further back, effectively objectifying them. However, one must admit that these new American versions simply are more emotional...I am sure it is no coincidence that this SACD has been released during Lent, although no one could have foreseen that it would be released during the novel coronavirus pandemic as well. In troubling and uncertain times, this is just what the doctor ordered, no matter what your spiritual beliefs might be.”
Colin Clarke, FANFARE
- “All the selections on this disc are excellent. This is very serious music...possessing the serious, dead on presentation that the Eastern Orthodox Church has always used in bringing us into the Divine reality of Christ’s life, Passion, Death and Resurrection. To move beyond sentimental meditation into being present is a great gift, and Arvo Pärt gets us there in his work.
This is more evident when taken into account that the performers of Gloriae Dei Cantores and Richard Pugsley approach this work steeped primarily in the Benedictine tradition of the Christian West. In listening to this disc, I cannot imagine a better interpretation of this music, both technically and spiritually, than what is presented here. A true meeting of East and West, neither side excluding the other, but standing united in the Truth of Christ. This is what happens on this disc.
The recording is superb. Maestro Pugsley, Paul Tingley co-produced this record, and the recording engineers Brad Michel and Dan Pfeiffer did a superlative job bringing this recording to life. The presence of the choir and orchestra is intimate and spacious at the same time, with all nuances of voice and instrument flawlessly presented to the listener...
I enthusiastically and gratefully congratulate this team on an absolutely amazing work.”
Seraphim Hanisch, OrthoChristian.com
- “Gloriae Dei Cantores develop the flow of the music with a sense of creative sensitivity...Thus it becomes clear that Arvo Pärt’s music conveys a universal message.
The soloists are totally convincing with contributions that stand out ...With technical preparation that leaves nothing to be desired, the recording, released on the ensemble’s own label, gives a successful impression of these choral works.”
- “***** FIVE STARS — Gloriæ Dei Cantores has rarely sounded better than here. Intonation is spot on, emotional fervency at a high level, and the Super Audio recording captures them in all their magnificent fullness. There are few choral groups that not only perform, but believe in the texts they are singing, and this commitment to the spirit and the word enhances the communicative ability in a manner than most similar ensembles can only envy. A fantastic recording.”
- “Five Stars — Performance and Stereo Sonics
In “Stabat Mater: Arvo Pärt”, a collection of sacred works for choir, organ and strings, vocal ensemble Gloriæ Dei Cantores weave a musical tapestry out of the inextricable strands of worldly and spiritual life...The members of vocal ensemble Gloriæ Dei Cantores perform music not as a profession in the secular sense of the word, but as a religious vocation...The ensemble’s concerts and recordings are distinguished by a devotional character that arises from their ongoing practice of choral services in the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Massachusetts...In preparation for this recording, each member committed to studying and reporting on Arvo Pärt’s compositional style, demonstrating a level of engagement well beyond that of most professional classical organizations.
...Conductor Richard K. Pugsley elicits from the choir a wide range of emotional expression, from the anguished call to share in the pain of the dying son, to the soft hush of weeping in compassionate solidarity with the bereaved mother...The sumptuous and detailed DSD recording was engineered in DSD by Brad Michel and Dan Pfeiffer...For all lovers of contemporary sacred choral music, and as an alternative perspective on the music of Arvo Pärt, this recording is highly recommended.”
- “Five stars: Extraordinary, profoundly moving music, superbly performed I previously encountered the Massachusetts-based choral ensemble Gloriæ Dei Cantores in its recording of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, reviewed by me and others in 40:6 and included on my 2017 Want List. Its rendition of that work was distinguished by an unearthly serenity, an intensely devotional feeling, and a sense of deep exaltation, qualities that I attributed to the performers’ profound belief in the religious content of the work. The performances of works by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt on this disc leave a similar impression, as well as being technically excellent.
The SACD stereo sound of this release is excellent. Although it was recorded in a church, reverberation is not excessive, prominent enough to confer an appropriate glow to the sound but with no blurring. The choral textures are clear and detailed, with precise definition of the different choral groupings. Switching to the conventional CD layer yields a soundstage that is less wide and deep and a reduction in textural detail, timbral definition, and bass presence. The sumptuous booklet includes the texts in the original language and English translation.
This release contains extraordinary, profoundly moving music, superbly performed, and is recommended to all lovers of choral music.”
Daniel Morrison, FANFARE
- “On this present disc, Richard K Pugsley shapes the music expressively...it’s valuable to hear the vocal lines and the austere harmonies with the clarity that’s in evidence on this new recording...The music (Stabat Mater) has no lack of delicacy where appropriate but the more dramatic moments emerge with greater force...The performance is very convincing, right from the very sorrowful opening. As I indicated earlier, the dramatic passages, such as ‘juxta crucem lacrymosa’ and ‘Fac ut portem’, are given with the force they need. Elsewhere, the singers deliver their exposed lines with admirable control – I noted as an example the sopranos’ excellent negotiation of the stratospheric line at ‘Fac me plagis vulnerari’. The end is masterly, not least for its extreme simplicity. In simple octaves, and unaccompanied, the choir sings ‘Quando corpus morietur’ before the strings join the singers, revisiting the material with which they launched the work. The ‘Amen’ then consists of an extended, descending line which starts in the soprano part and eventually finds its way, via the alto line, to the tenors, bringing the Stabat Mater to a profound and movingly simple end. This performance by Gloriæ Dei Cantores is very successful and if you already have a recording of the original version of the score then this fuller version is well worth your attention also for the different light it shines on this moving score. This is an admirable set of performances of choral music by Arvo Pärt. The singing by Gloriæ Dei Cantores is both accomplished and committed.”
- “The works gain immediate sincerity, embodied by a collective that expresses dynamics and momentum, aspirations, sense of the texts, fascinating contrasts, even spiritual elation. The opening, Peace upon You, Jerusalem is a song of grace for Jerusalem, intoned with nuance by the women’s choir. We can clearly see this radiant fervor of Pärt, woven with tears and joy, especially compassion...The Stabat Mater is the masterpiece of the program; she witnesses the listener in dark and bitter waves, of total affliction - expression of the most absolute destitution (waves descending by the strings alone) where modesty and light expression weigh with all their weight; the choir, the instrumentalists know how to make the powerful prayer spring from it…Familiar with Pärt’s choral writing, including singing and presenting it on tour...the singers of the Gloriae Dei Cantores ensemble honestly display the fervor that carries the whole choral structure. The Stabat Mater touches and captivates with its direct expressiveness, and its grace which is accomplished...The performers of this program offer a true, invested, and often astounding interpretation.”
- “All six works sung by the marvelous Gloriæ Dei Cantores choral group under Richard K. Pugsley on a new SACD from GDC Recordings speak beautifully to a modern audience – even one unfamiliar with Latin, the language of most of these pieces, and equally unfamiliar with the specific religious connotations and purposes of the pieces.
Magnificat is praise by Mary, and Pärt invests it with an otherworldliness that requires a perfectly balanced chorus with clear enunciation in even the quietest passages – providing a fine example of just how good Gloriæ Dei Cantores is.”
- “A new Arvo Part album climbs to number five in the Billboard classical chart. The latest album featuring the choral works Pärt is climbing up the classical chart of Billboard, the music industry standard record chart in the United States. “Stabat Mater: Choral Works by Arvo Pärt” debuted at number 15 in the chart but has now made it to the top five in one of the largest classical music markets of the world. The album has already earned many positive reviews in the US.”
- “The latest work by the Estonian Russian Orthodox composer Arvo Pärt -Stabat Mater - has been released on CD these days. The performers are the choir and orchestra of the US ensemble Gloriæ Dei Cantores under the direction of Richard K. Pugsley. According to music experts, the sacred music composition represents an impressive example of the encounter between the orthodox view and classic Western training. East and West are united in Pärt’s new work, according to the unanimous view of the experts.”
Kath Press (Austria)
- “The composer’s keen ear draws from 1000 years of choral writing shone through the prism of the Massachusetts-based choral/orchestral ensemble Gloriæ Dei Cantores, who pay homage to Pärt with a collection of his spiritual settings composed between 1985 (Stabat Mater) and 2008.”
“Gloriæ Die Cantores performances equal or better the many Pärt recitals found on ECM records and elsewhere. The super audio hybrid programming pays off with an efficiently realized presence that is warm without being stuffy and crystalline without being sharp edged. These performances are significant additions to the Pärt discography.”
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