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Album Review

Arvo Part's Kanon Pokajanen is a work of starkly radiant beauty, a deeply felt plea for forgiveness so resonant it seems to bear its own expiatory power. The piece is a choral setting of the Russian Orthodox Church's canon of repentance, believed to have been composed by St. Andrew of Crete sometime in the late seventh century. Part had experimented with the canon in earlier works, but when the Cologne Cathedral commissioned him to compose a choral piece for its 750th anniversary, he took the opportunity to immerse himself in it completely. Over two years of intense quality time with the work, Part produced an 80-minute choral setting of the entire canon that mines each word of the original Church Slavonic (a language used exclusively in ecclesiastical texts) for its maximum musicality and meaning. Part believes language to be more important to a choral work than the music. In the liner notes, he explains that he wants each word "to find its own sound, to draw its own melodic line." The result is a piece that moves slowly and deliberately through the canon, making ample use of the silences between the words. The juxtaposition of the deep bass men's voices with the high soprano women's voices, sung in the dissonant harmonic style of medieval chant, parallels the canon's night and day symbolism. Part's version, performed in an immaculate recording by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, captures the sunrise feeling of a song that is still sung at the break of day in European monasteries. Marina Bobrik-Fromke's liner notes describe it beautifully: "The canon is heard in the nave, barely illuminated by the flickering candles, while the door to the sanctuary still remains closed. As soon as the canon has come to an end, this entrance...opens. The church is filled with light, signifying the presence of Christ." Asked by an interviewer how best to listen to the piece, Part laughed. "First of all," he said, "Turn off the television." If you're looking for background music, Kanon Pokajanen is not your best choice. This is music to soak in, music to meditate to. Music of searing intensity that finds that part of the soul, so often neglected in today's fast-paced lifestyle, that is starved for reverence, fear, and awe, longing to say "Come out to seek me; lead me up to Thy pasturage and number me among the sheep of Thy chosen flock. Nourish me with them on the grass of Thy Holy Mysteries."

Customer Reviews


This is one of Part's most exceptional works, and is indubitably his most religious. I can laud this album a million times, and when words of tongue and pen are spent, I shall still search ways to express this title's magnificence. If you love or even follow chamber music, this album shall transfix you as it did me. Forget about perfunctorily purchasing music in order to enhance yoga meditation. This collection will literally compel you to genuflect before a sacred God in submission and penitence, leaving you breathless and changed like no other monastic musical collation could ever imagine to achieve in so ephemeral a time. It's a tragedy such music has vanished the spectrum of our present day and age and given indirect rise to manifold artistic charlatans on MTV; nevertheless, this album is more a testament to man's uncorruptable spirit, at least that of Part's, to revive a dead musical language and speak as the Apostles did at Pentecost: by tongues of fire the perfect and holy message of a divine supernature.

Transport to Calm

Though this is classified as religious/christian choral music, it goes beyond that. You do not have to be a christian to be moved by this music, it gets to core of the human spirit, no matter what your beliefs. If you like Dead Can Dance, this is the next step. I am not a fan of choral music but this is amazing work and an excellent recording. Perfect music for late evening, middle of the night, relaxing from a hectic day. Takes you away to a very peaceful place.


The sheer splendor of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir's abilities echo throughout this entire recording. Arvo Part's composition, written in the seductive Church Slavic, captures the mind as it displays both untold power and beauty. This phenomenal album cannot disappoint.


Formed: 1981

Genre: Classical

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Tõnu Kaljuste founded the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir in 1981 as a professional successor to his father Heino Kaljuste's amateur chamber choir Ellerhein. The younger Kaljuste nurtured the ensemble as its principal conductor and artistic director for 20 years, focusing the group's programs and recordings on music by Estonian composers, primarily Arvo Pärt and Veljo Tormis, although its full repertoire ranges from Gregorian chant and gems of the Baroque and Classical periods to contemporary...
Full Bio

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Pärt: Kanon Pokajanen, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
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  • $24.99
  • Genres: Classical, Music, Modern Era
  • Released: Mar 27, 1998

Customer Ratings