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Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is celebrated in two beautifully filmed DVDs to celebrate his 80th birthday The Lost Paradise is a documentary about him, his work and style; Adam’s Passion is a recording of four of those works, staged by Robert Wilson. Pärt is notoriously reclusive, so the opportunity to film him wasn’t to be missed, and we watch him both at work and in his private space (though hardly at play – I doubt that occurs to him).

Despite director Günter Attein’s best efforts, Pärt proves a tricky person to pin down – with the gaunt expression of an El Greco saint, he is by turns impish and serious, and fond of gnomic utterances. Wilson is equally tricky, not least because he appears to have cultivated the blankest poker face imaginable, is similarly fond of obscure pronouncements and would delight a semanticist with his phraseology. They met at a Papal Audience in the Sistine Chapel, as one does, and are seemingly further removed from the Common Man by a protective layer of assistants, who hang reverently on every word. (Perhaps they both have perfectly normal lives deemed extraneous to requirement here.)

Adam’s Passion, staged in a former submarine factory in Tallin, is an apt summation of their meeting of minds. Wilson stages Pärt’s work with a balance between stasis and almost imperceptible music (ie very slow), and states that the music and visuals ‘reinforce’ rather than ‘decorate’ each other (ie very, very slow). Aurally and visually it’s an acquired taste. I have to admit that Pärt’s music, described as ‘purity, silence and beauty’ is generally accessible, with its basis in Gregorian Chant and polyphony, and his rhythmic and meditative tintinnabuli. However, Wilson’s contribution, though often visually stunning, does make you wonder at times exactly what the emperor did with his old clothes.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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