Arvo Pärt: Symphony No. 4

Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen

Premiere recordings of Arvo Pärt’s music belong on ECM New Series. This recording of the 4th Symphony – Pärt’s first symphonic work in more than 30 years – documents also the premiere concert performance at L.A.’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. Before Pärt started work on the composition, his thoughts had been circling around texts related to guardian angels. Then he received the commission from Los Angeles, a city whose very name means ‘the angels’. His decision to make the Canon of the Guardian Angel the foundation of the new piece was a foregone conclusion. The 4th Symphony is augmented on disc by a new montage of “fragments” of Kanon Pokajanen, a piece which Pärt feels is closely related to the symphony. “To my mind, the two works belong together and form a stylistic unity."

Featured Artists Recorded

June 1997 & January 2009

Original Release Date


  • Symphony No.4
    (Arvo Pärt)
  • 1I. Con sublimitá12:04
  • 2II. Affannoso14:12
  • 3III. Deciso08:45
  • 4Fragments from Kanon Pokajanen (1997)
    (Arvo Pärt, Traditional)
Gramophone, Editor’s Choice
BBC Music Magazine, Orchestral Choice
Pizzicato, Supersonic
This 35-minute symphony is a work of wonder, and Salonen’s radiant performance makes deep awe and surface beauty non-contradictory.
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times
Since No 3 he has developed a vocabulary of a singular intensity and cohesion, which is something he was grasping for… That vocabulary has been established by means of an extended series of choral works, linked ever more clearly with his Orthodox faith but employing an ever-expanding range of musical and linguistic colour. … It is important precisely to emphasise the astonishing feeling for that very continuity that the LAPO under Salonen clearly has. The sheer beauty of the sound – and the silence – also does not escape them… Repeated listening brings great rewards: this is a true symphony for the 21st century.
Ivan Moody, Gramophone
In his ability to make even the most cataclysmic sonic moments intensely personal and introspective, Pärt perhaps stands alone. The expansiveness of the entire symphony is almost Brucknerian, slow to unveil itself. … Pärt’s Fourth Symphony makes for one of the year’s most compelling releases.
DA, Time out Chicago
The symphony’s three slow movements are scored for strings, harp and percussion. Pärt is one of the very few composers who can draw such richness from spare materials, or use percussion with such subtlety. In this symphony he questions the music’s harmonic stability with suspensions and creates tension in the finale by splitting the orchestra between A minor and A major.
Barry Witherden, BBC Music Magazine

Arvo Pärt’s “Fourth Symphony”, subtitled “Los Angeles”, was written in 2008 and premièred in January of the following year, with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. That first performance is reprised on this disc. It is the first of Pärt’s symphonic pieces to appear on ECM New Series, the label closely associated with the Estonian composer since the 1984 release of “Tabula rasa.”

“The symphony is exceedingly beautiful,“ wrote Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times in January 2009, reviewing the premiere concert. Pärt’s return to symphonic structure and scope (in a work scored for string orchestra, harp, tympani and percussion) created great interest amongst press and public, for almost forty years had passed since the composer’s 3rd symphony. In the interim, many of the fundamentals of Pärt’s art had been overturned, his epochal “Tabula rasa” wiping the slate clean, that the composer might begin again. In the new symphony his radically reductive tintinnabulation style is focused upon the larger form.

The idea of the symphony first began to take shape in Pärt’s mind in a period when he was reflecting upon texts related to guardian angels. A commission from Los Angeles, a city whose very name means ‘the angels’ was timely, and confirmed his decision to make the “Canon of the Guardian Angel” the foundation of the new piece. The Fourth Symphony, then, is both literally and figuratively a ‘musical setting’, based on an underlying text which forms the work’s point of departure, determining its structure down to the smallest details. Paul Griffiths has noted that this music is “saturated with chant: in its modality, in its phrasing, in its repetitions and alternations, in how groups answer one another, in how – more as in the western church than the eastern – percussion instruments are used to make ritual signals. The orchestra seems to be straining to enunciate a litany, the stretched strings to sound as if from angel throats.”

In making a canon the starting point of a symphony, Pärt once again allowed the spirit of Church Slavonic poetry to permeate the musical fabric, as he had done in his 1995/6 choral work “Kanon Pokajanen”.

“To my mind, the two works form a stylistic unity and belong together”, the composer explains. “I wanted to give the words an opportunity to choose their own sound. The result, which even caught me by surprise, was a piece wholly pervaded by this special Slavonic diction found only in church texts. It was the canon that clearly showed me how strongly choice of language preordains a work’s character.”

Appropriate, then, to bring together the Fourth Symphony on disc with a new editing of the “Kanon Pokajanen” – “Fragments” as Arvo Pärt calls them. Like newly-found pieces of a mosaic reassembled, they can give us a powerful sense of the whole.