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Seen and Heard Concert Review

Tüür, Schumann, Pärt, Nielsen: Truls Mørk (cello), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi (conductor), Barbican Hall, 24th February, 2005 (AR)

This concert began with the London premiere of Erkki-Sven Tüür's nine-minute masterpiece Aditus (2000, rev. 2002). The title Aditus ('approach, entrance, access') alludes to the work's conflicting forces and contrasting sensations that collide and retreat in rising, sinking, swirling movements striving for survival and escaping burial. The work is dedicated to the composer's friend and teacher Lepo Sumera (who died in 2000) "as a celebration of a great man."

Listening to Aditus for the first time I was struck by its originality of voice: Tüür is arguably one the finest composers alive today and yet does not come across as sounding 'contemporary' in the conventional sense of that term. Tüür's Aditus sounded archaically classical yet thoroughly modern at the same time, but without sounding ever like post-modern pastiche as did Arvo Pärt's Pro et Contra heard in part two. Tüür is a master of composition, a genius of autonomy, sounding unique yet also magnificently assimilative, coming to grips with the anxiety of influence with great aplomb, with traces of Schoenberg's Pelleas & Melisande and Strauss's Death & Transfiguration seeping through. The shimmering score of Aditus is rich, lush, voluptuous and violent, bursting at the seams - as if wanting to escape its angst-ridden self. Tüür is a brilliant orchestral virtuoso the likes of which we have not seen since Wagner and Strauss. The composer was there to share the enthusiastic applause with conductor and orchestra, who performed his complex masterpiece with great verve and virtuosity.

The concert sadly sagged with Schumann's Cello Concerto in A major, Op. 120 (1850), in an uninspired performance by Truls Mørk. Arvo Pärt's Pro et Contra or For and Against, (1966, rev. 1999) sounded much of its time and therefore dated and predictable. This hybrid cello concerto deals with a post-modern play between Baroque pastiche versus twelve-tone music. Yet there was little sense of chaos or conflict here because there was no real sense of tension being generated between this play of conflicting and contrasting styles. Cellist Truls Mørk seemed uncomfortable, and the performance suffered.

Järvi gave a paradigm performance of Carl Nielsen's Fifth Symphony, Op.50 (1920-1922), integrating the two movements as an unfolding organic whole. Järvi's tight grasp of tempi, structure and dynamics was judged to absolute perfection and held the audience in mesmerised silence from beginning to end. Like the other contemporary works on the programme, Nielsen's work deals with conflict and dissonance - as he said: "the division of dark and light, the battle between evil and good." The so called evil element is represented by the side drummer who is instructed at the climax of the first movement to improvise "in his own tempo, as though determined at all costs to obscure the music" along with an anarchic battery of percussion playing ad-lib. The BBC SO percussion brought this off with great attack, making the music sound really threatening and disruptive. Yet the side drum is not meant to sound militaristic and this score is not a 'war symphony' - as often wrongly termed - but one of conflict between man and nature. The side drummer played his anarchic entries with great aplomb as did the rest of the percussion section. Richard Hosford's sour clarinet solo after the storm was appropriately alienating and melted slowly into nothingness: I have never heard this passage done so exquisitely. Among highlights of this electrifying performance was John Chimes's incisive timpani interjections which had great impact and intensity cutting through the swirling strings at the beginning of the concluding movement. Järvi stated that he sees the concluding bars as optimistic rather than pessimistic so opted for toning down the brass and making the strings play free-bow in the closing bars. This radical conception worked very well with the free-bowing effect giving the sensation of the strings spiralling and sawing up to a crescendo accompanied by the nailing timpani.

Alex Russell

Further listening:

Carl Nielsen, Fifth Symphony (20 Nov.1980); Dmitri Shostakovich Sixth Symphony (21 Jan. 1968); Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam, Kirill Kondrashin (conductor), Live Recordings: Philips Classics: 438 283-2 ADD.



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