Pärt – Poulenc – Strawinsky

Three great choral and orchestral works of the 20th century are gathered together on a new CD from BR-KLASSIK: Arvo Pärt's "Berlin Mass" for choir and string orchestra from 1990, Francis Poulenc's "Stabat mater" for soprano, mixed choir and orchestra from 1950, and Igor Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms" for choir and orchestra from 1930. With the soprano Genia Kühmeier and the Chor & Smyphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under the direction of Mariss Jansons.

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The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, famed for his magical sounds, created his “Berlin Mass” as a commission for the 90th German Catholic Convention in Berlin. It was premiered in its first version for four mixed solo voices and organ by the vocal ensemble Theatre of Voices under Paul Hillier at St Hedwig’s Cathedral in Berlin on Ascension Day, May 24, 1990. In 1997, Pärt reworked his Catholic Mass for choir and string orchestra. The music uses the so-called “tintinnabuli” style, the composer’s trademark, throughout; it is performed in imaginatively different ways in each movement.

The French composer Francis Poulenc wrote his “Stabat mater” in response to the unexpected death of his friend, the artist Christian Bérard. He had originally wanted to write a requiem but, after returning from a visit to the Black Madonna of Rocamadour, where he had found his Catholic faith, he chose the medieval poem as a basis instead. His sacred works from those years rank as his most important compositions. The “Stabat mater”, consisting of twelve short movements, was premiered on June 13, 1951 at the Strasbourg Festival and quickly gained a leading place in the international choral repertoire.

Igor Stravinsky’s well-known “Symphony of Psalms” (original French: “Symphonie de Psaumes”) is a symphonic work in three movements for choir and orchestra. It was written in 1930 as a commission for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but was premiered on December 13, 1930 by the Société Philharmonique de Bruxelles under Ernest Ansermet. Only a few days later – on December 19 – the US premiere by the Boston Symphony Orchestra followed, under Serge Koussevitzky. Stravinsky himself conducted the first recording of the work in February 1931. The unusual orchestration – with strong woodwind and brass, percussion instruments, two pianos and only the bass strings (violoncellos, double basses) without violins or violas – gives the work its distinctive sound.

The recordings were made live at concerts in Munich: Pärt’s “Berlin Mass” on June 2 and 3, 2005, Poulenc’s “Stabat mater” on November 8 and 9, 2007 and Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” on March 5 and 6, 2009. The concerts impressed the Munich audience as well as the specialist press.

Genia Kühmeier, soprano
Chor & Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Mariss Jansons, conductor

Total Time: 78’05 min.

  • Three significant choral and orchestral works of the 20th century:
    Arvo Pärt’s “Berlin Mass” from 1990, Francis Poulenc’s “Stabat mater” from 1950 and Igor Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” from 1930
  • Live recordings of Munich concerts performed in June 2005 (Pärt), November 2007 (Poulenc), and March 2009 (Stravinsky)
  • Genia Kühmeier sings the soprano solo in Poulenc’s “Stabat mater”
  • The Bavarian Radio Chorus and Symphony Orchestra perform under the baton of Mariss Jansons, chief conductor of both ensembles for many years, who died in December 2019.