Estonia’s vexed relationship with Russian power echoes Shostakovich’s unavoidably equivocal world view. The composer spent time in the Baltic seaside resort of Pärnu, then a relatively liberal outpost of the Soviet empire, and Alpha’s beautifully designed physical product includes photographic corroboration of his encounter with the Järvis in 1973.
Like his father, Paavo Järvi plainly loves recording, but where Neeme in his prime was intent on transmitting the inner life of a score, Paavo can seem almost excessively sure-footed, as if preoccupied with precisely buffed surfaces. Not so here in a release coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Estonian independence. Since 2011 the peripatetic maestro has touched base at the Pärnu Festival every August, overseeing its evolution into a kind of alternative Lucerne, a summer season for the cream of Estonian musical talent drawing guest players from more venerable European ensembles. The resulting super-group is not huge but its bright clarity, with violins antiphonally placed, does not preclude the plumbing of depths both physical and emotional.
In any event this must be one of the finer Sixths of the digital era. Minor imprecisions present in the closing concert of the 2016 season as captured on film have been eliminated for this audio version (subsequently recorded in whole or in part). Even now, the finale whirls us to its end with articulate ferocity at a tempo almost faster than the players can manage. Vladimir Jurowski, to name one recent rival, is much more symphonically sedate. Closer to Jurowski, and indeed to Neeme, in Shostakovich’s great opening Largo, Paavo rejects the funereal approach implied by the initial metronome mark, admitting a rare degree of light and shade. I loved the idiosyncratic woodwind solos.
Sadly Abram Stasevich’s arrangement of the Eighth String Quartet proves more problematic. However compelling the performance, readers reluctant to embrace the usual string orchestra transcription by Rudolf Barshai will have insurmountable problems with the incursions of timpani. The symphony at least is terrific.