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The newest installment in ECM’s series of the austere works of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, Litany is a somber setting of the 24 hourly prayers of St. John Chrysostom, recorded in the pristine acoustic environment of Tallinn’s Niguliste Church. Assisted by soloists from the esteemed Hilliard Ensemble, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra interpret Pärt’s solemn devotions with delicacy and control. In Litany, as in many of his works, Pärt uses incremental construction to build tension and suspense. Commencing with solo voices against a backdrop of barely audible string intonations, Pärt draws upon additional pairings of voices to provide gradual dynamic shifts as the orchestral motion unobtrusively rises and settles. The plaintive quality of the modal vocal lines, as well as the penitent tone of the lyrics, recalls Pärt’s Miserere in great detail, but the stoic delivery of Litany’s verses of devotion reflects an attitude of determination, rather than abject prostration. Pärt’s antiphonal dialogue between the soloists and the chorus not only provides lyrical emphasis but adds textural color as well. The two orchestral works on the disc, Psalom and Trisagion, reflect more of the harmonic warmth of Pärt’s secular compositions, even though both works are inspired by sacred writings. Pärt’s relevance as a composer of note for the 20th century is undeniably proved by his unique and resourceful methods of incorporating the study of chant into a contemporary musical setting. Often compared with colleague Henryk Górecki’s compositional style for similarities in tone and color, Pärt’s technique differs in his ability to strip away all emotional excess to reveal a bare and often bleak musical core.Amy Domingues