Bis, Hyperion, Marco Polo, CPO and Chandos have an
enviably stable catalogue at what cost to them commercially I do wonder.
Once they have recorded something it tends to stay available. More recently
(well, the last five years) Hyperion, CPO, Marco Polo and Chandos have
moved back catalogue into mid or bargain price categories. BIS tend
to mark down prices only when issuing multi-CD sets (and there are some
outstanding bargains including their Holmboe Symphonies and Medtner
Piano Concertos though the latter are in fact a Danacord licensed arrangement).
Otherwise BIS show long term commitment by keeping CDs in their catalogue
for year after year. I can recall buying the LP of the Sallinen symphonies
1 and 3 - this was in the 1970s - and the counterpart CD is still there
in Robert von Bahr's catalogue.
Temporal commitment is one thing ... repertoire tenacity
is another. BIS have held unflinchingly loyal to some composers. I have
already mentioned Holmboe but in addition they have done Sibelius proud
(some might say exhaustingly as well as exhaustively) as well as Holmboe,
Segerstam, Nystroem (more please!), Kokkonen, Alfvén, Stenhammar
... and Tubin. The company have recorded all Tubin's symphonies, the
concertos, and the chamber music and the music for solo piano. Which
brings us to this set.
Eduard Tubin was born in a village near Lake Peipsi
in Estonia. He graduated as a teacher in 1926. Between 1924 and 1930
he studied in Tartu with Heino Eller. His immersion in the musical world
came when he worked as coach and then conductor at Tartu's Vanemuine
Theatre. Soviet occupation drove Tubin to Sweden in 1944 where he spent
many years restoring old opera scores at Drottningholm. His Swedish
years saw a gradual flowering of interest and much compositional activity.
His symphonies (10 and a stub of No. 11) fuelled international interest
and the growth of attraction on a cosmopolitan stage was substantially
attributable to the work of Rumessen, von Bahr and Neeme Järvi.
The works are laid out across the CDs in substantially
chronological order with the occasional excursion. All but sixty minutes
of the 148 min playing time is dedicated to music for violin and piano.
Twenty-four minutes is allocated to the solo violin - two works (a sonata
and a suite) at the end of CD1. Just over 30 mins is comprised in two
works for viola and piano - a sonata for saxophone and piano (in the
viola version) and the viola sonata itself. These are at the end of
Tubin channelled much of his creativity into the violin.
There are several violin concertos, significant soloistic episodes in
symphonies 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10 as well as in the ballet Kratt,
the Piano Concerto, and the Music for Strings. He worked closely
with the violinist Evald Turgan until Turgan's deportation to Siberia
in 1944. He wrote the violin sonata No 1 and many of the pieces on CD1
for Turgan. This stratum reacts with his fascination with the essentials
of Estonian folk song. The country fiddler and the Mephistophelian violin
easily coexist and strike sparks off the folk heritage as in the allegro
marciale of the Three Pieces, the Cock's Dance from
the ballet Kratt and the truculent little Capriccio No. 1.
That devilish strain is also reflected in the booklet cover which reproduces
Eduard Wiiralt's lividly ghoulish 'The Violinist'.
Tubin was enthused by his reading of the folk research
of Bartók and Kodaly and met Kodaly during his 1938 visit to
Hungary. There may be some parallels although there is not the same
level of explosive euphoria to be found in Tubin that you find in the
Galanta Dances or The Peacock Variations. Listen however
to the piano whorls at the start of the Kantele Player in the
Suite of Estonian Dances. Here the Kodaly-like ecstatic crosses
with the jollity of Petrushka. The rural skirl of Old Waltz from
Suite on Estonian Dances (and the second section of Capriccio
No. 2) is closer to the Kodaly works though earthier and without
concert veneer. A similar soil-authenticity is to be found in the dance
pulse of the delightful violin concerto of Janis Ivanovs. What you also
find in Tubin is a rapturous meditative tendency. Listen to the Ballade
(and up to a point in the Second Capriccio) though this is much
closer to Vaughan Williams' Lark Ascending or Julius Harrison's
Bredon Hill. The Prelude's spidery piano ostinato ripples
just as joyously as its counterpart in Bax's Winter Legends but
soon melts into the same ecstatic flight as that of the Ballade.
The first disc closes with two works for unaccompanied
violin. The five movement Suite of Estonian Dance Tunes has the
true 'country' feeling intensified by the use of solo instrument suggesting
the peripatetic musician travelling from fair, to wedding, to market.
This accessible music is followed by the much tougher (though like all
this music, firmly tonal), Sonata for Solo Violin. This is the most
severe of genres as can be heard in Frankel's two examples. Tubin keeps
things concise at only 11 minutes but it is tough going especially in
the wake of so much accessible material.
The second disc presents the more ambitious pieces
in the shape of four sonatas. None of these is over-extended. All achieve
the elusive balance of being succinct as well as epic. The First Sonata
announces, in its fluent passion, a composer in his early maturity.
This is a sonata playing just short of seventeen minutes which has its
slightly jazzy moments but its truer soul lies in the rhapsodic and
exciting engagement of concerto format. In fact the textures are tangibly
orchestral at one point - a work in which the potent lyricism of Prokofiev
meets the worldly sardonics of Shostakovich. The three movements follow
each other without pause. The work is played in its 1969 revision. The
Second Sonata is five or so minutes longer and has a strong macabre
accent - shades of Field Marshal Death stalk the pages of the first
movement while the third is truculent and searching as well as being
caustically brilliant and raggedly playful. The three movements are,
this time, separate. A humble theme is played unison by the two instruments
at the start of the second movement and from this gradually opens out
an elegiac meditation - often sweet and high and at 5.17 of real tenderness.
The Northern Lights theme which features in the Second Piano
Sonata and the Sixth Symphony also appears in this work as an implacably
cold plutonic presence.
After Leibur's meatily sweet violin for one and a half
discs we are regaled with Petra Vahle's hoarse and incisive viola. The
finale two sonatas on CD2 are works of high seriousness with no humour
unless it is the levity of the gallows. There is tenderness in this
music but also aggression and a conviction of the presence of dark agencies.
The colours are subdued and sinister. While hardly as Hebraic as the
early Copland work I thought more than once of his Vitebsk. Another,
though much later, reference point is the negation of the Shostakovich
The 60 page booklet is in English, German and French
but no Estonian or for that matter Swedish. English speakers can be
grateful for the cornucopia of solid detail and vivid description from
Vardo Rumessen who is here both pianist (definitely not 'accompanist'
- that is not Tubin's way) and annotator (and I apologise for pirating
his commentary). Rumessen writes with flair and blessedly deals in factual
specifics of dates and people. There are 42 music examples.
On the downside the 2CDs are housed in an old style
double CD case although such is the bulk of the booklet that it could
never have been accommodated in a new single width double case.
Rumessen is to Estonian music what Lewis Foreman and
Vernon Handley have jointly been to the music of the occluded British
generation of the period 1880-1960. I hope that his self-sacrificing
drive is recognised in his home country. Personally I hope that he will
be able to redouble his efforts for his other countrymen Eller, Saar,
Oja, Aavs, Tobias and Peeter Süda.
If any funding organisations read this review may I
urge them to lend their names and support to Mr Rumessen. On the evidence
of what I have heard he has an unerring and far from uncritical or sentimental
judgement in assessing musical worth.
This set is as strongly recommended as the Rumessen
triple volume cycle of the Tubin
piano music - also from BIS. Not to be missed!
Eduard TUBIN Society
The Society can be contacted via Mr Rumessen at Vardo.Rumessen@riigikogu.ee