Friday, December 07, 2007

CD REVIEW: Tüür- "Magma"-CD of the month

December, 2007
By Hubert Culot

Erkki-Sven TÜÜR (b. 1959)
Symphony No.4 “Magma” (2002)a [31:06]
Inquiétude du fini (1992)b [18:29]
Igavik (2006)c [4:37]
The Path and the Traces (2005) [12:36]
Evelyn Glennie (percussion)a; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choirbc; Estonian National Male Choirc; Estonian National Symphony Orchestra; Paavo Järvi
rec. Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn, June 2006
Texts and translations included
VIRGIN CLASSICS 3857852 [67:23]


Like the recent Tüür release from ECM (ECM New Series 1919 - see review), this new disc offers three fairly recent works, composed between 2002 and 2006, and a slightly earlier piece completed in 1992, which again allows for a fair appraisal of his stylistic journey while also emphasising some typical Tüür hallmarks.

The earliest work here, Inquiétude du fini, is a setting for small choir and chamber orchestra (flute, clarinet, bassoon and strings) of a poem in French by the Estonian writer Tōnu Ōnnepalu obliquely dealing with some present-day concern with the future of mankind and of the planet more generally, but in an oblique poetic manner, as Martin Anderson quite aptly puts it. The setting is mostly homophonic, with little attempt at counterpoint, but for a short almost aleatoric section (“Le silence! Les Mouches!”). In spite of its many felicities and its many typical Tüür touches, such as toccata-like string flourishes, glissandi, and cluster-like textures, this deeply felt and undoubtedly sincere score somewhat fails to satisfy completely, mainly – I think – because of its all-too-episodic structure that rather tends to emphasise the music’s eclecticism.

The main work in this selection is Tüür’s Symphony No.4 “Magma” for solo percussion and orchestra, the latter dispensing with any orchestral percussion, thus emphasising this work’s symphonic conception. Although in one vast single movement, the symphony clearly falls into four sections reflecting the traditional symphonic model. The first section opens with a massive, arresting gesture, three mighty waves of sound aptly suggesting a brutal eruption. This is then contrasted with softer episodes in which metal percussion predominates. The music, however, unfolds with the unpredictability of flowing magma. The second section is a Scherzo of some sort featuring a drum-set surrounded by powerful brass fanfares propelling the music with a formidable, irrepressible energy. It ends with an improvised cadenza for percussion leading into the third section, a nocturne of some sort, obviously designed to bring some marked contrast with the preceding sections; but it does not really succeed in slowing the music’s flow, that does not slacken in the least in the fourth section in spite of a brief episode characterised by “a tramping figure” in the cellos and basses. The symphony ends with a final irresistible final rush capped by a last resonating percussion shimmer. Tüür’s impressive Fourth Symphony is not only a most welcome addition to the repertoire for percussion and orchestra, although it is definitely not a concerto but a real symphonic work in which the percussion part is an integral part of the argument, but also one of Tüür’s finest works to date.

Dedicated to Arvo Pärt on his 70th birthday, The Path and the Traces for string orchestra was written, while the composer and his wife were on holiday in Crete. There, Tüür heard some Orthodox chant, which left its mark on the music, which also contains some brief allusions to Pärt’s music. The opening gesture (oscillating harmonics over a low pedal note, recalling the drone in Orthodox chanting) later functions as a refrain of some sort throughout the whole work. A very beautiful work, indeed, that pays some tribute to the composer’s mentor but also a deeply felt homage to Tüür’s father who died while he was writing this score.

The most recent work here was composed for the funeral service of Lennart Meri, who was the first foreign minister of the newly independent Estonia and later its president. Meri, who had been exiled to Siberia after the Second World War, was also a scholar interested in the other Finno-Ugric languages, a concern that also led Tormis to explore the music of other Finno-Ugric peoples (the result was, among other, his splendid cycle Forgotten Peoples). Igavik (“Eternity”) on a short poem by Doris Kareva and scored for male voices and orchestra is an occasional work, no doubt, but one that certainly means much to Estonian audiences. It nevertheless is a well-meant and sincerely felt tribute to an important Estonian statesman.

These impeccable performances are a pure joy from first to last. Needless to say, too, that Evelyn Glennie almost effortlessly navigates through the often demanding and physically taxing percussion part. The recorded sound is superb and Martin Anderson’s insert notes are as detailed and well informed as ever. I warmly recommend this magnificent disc not only to lovers of Tüür’s music but also to all those who enjoy vital, all-embracing music of great communicative strength.

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