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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Eduard TUBIN (1905-1982)
The Symphonies (1931-1973)

Symphony No. 1 (1931-34) [32.21]
Symphony No. 2 The Legendary (1937-38) [31.45]
Symphony No. 3 (1940-42) [33.28]
Symphony No. 4 Sinfonia Lirica (1943/1978) [35.32]
Symphony No. 5 (1946) [30.15]
Symphony No. 6 (1954) [31.36]
Symphony No. 7 (1958) [25.45]
Symphony No. 8 (1966) [28.41]
Symphony No. 9 Sinfonia Semplice (1969) [22.22]
Symphony No. 10 (1973) [25.21]
Toccata (1937) [5.38]
Suite from the ballet Kratt (The Goblin) (1961) [23.55]
Swedish Radio SO (1,2,3,6,8)
Gothenburg SO (7, 9, 10, Toccata)
Bergen PO (4)
Bamberg SO (5, Kratt)
Neeme Järvi (conductor)
recording details:-
Berwald Hall, Stockholm: 20-23 Oct 1986 (1), 10-12 June 1985 (2,6), 16-19 Sept 1986 (3,8)
Grieg Hall, Bergen: 5 Nov 1982, public concert (4)
Dominikanerhaus, Bamberg: 1-3 July 1985 (5, Kratt)
Gothenburg Concert Hall, Sweden: 25-27 May 1987 (7), 4 Sept 1981 (9), 31 Oct 1986 (10), 2 Feb 1984 (Toccata)
DDD/AAD
5 CDs for the price of 3
BIS BIS-CD-1402/1404 [5CDs: 63.20+64.01+62.46+65.24+75.49]

 

Neeme Järvi is the constant throughout the ten symphonies written across the scorched tracks of forty plus years of European history. These were years of dispossession, of oppression, of uprooting and loss.

Tubin was born in a rural backwater, his musical skills exercised through playing in village bands, at dances and at weddings. Estonian independence in 1918 was a heady brew and Tubin drank it in. The years between the two great conflicts of the last century saw the composer travelling to Leningrad, Paris, Budapest and Vienna. Both Kodaly and Bartók saw the scores of the first two symphonies. During most of the 1930s his base was the city of Tartu. He was there when Soviet troops marched in in 1940. Four years later it was imperative that he leave Estonia. He went with his family to Sweden. He was not to return to Estonia again, and then only for visits, until the thaw set in 1961. Sweden welcomed him with respect and provided him with premieres and radio broadcasts. In his last decade from 1972 onwards international interest grew, partly fuelled by the underground tape network, the convenience of the cassette and the trickle of Swedish radio broadcasts. This was such that his last completed symphony was premiered in Boston as part of that orchestra's centenary season.

The trudging ascent of Tubin's music into the zone of international knowledge was ironically facilitated by the flight to Sweden. His first four symphonies, up to 1944 and the departure, were all premiered by Estonian Radio under the conductor Olav Roots. From the Fifth onwards the premieres were with Swedish forces with Neeme Järvi conducting. The exception is the Tenth Symphony.

Sweden's steadfast support for this refugee found its zenith in Bis's commitment to record the orchestral music. Bis kept its word. While the two operas were recorded by Ondine most, if not all of his output, can be found on Bis.

These are DDD recordings with the exception of one disc - that containing symphonies 4 and 9 and the Toccata.

We tend to forget how much of a 'one man band' Bis was in its earliest days. Some of us can trace our way back to their stunning LP recording of the Sallinen symphonies 1 and 3 (I still have it). True to those early days Robert von Bahr, the proprietor and benign genius of Bis, was the producer of the recordings of symphonies 1-6 and 8. Lennart Dehn and Michael Bergek account for the later symphonies.

The Tubin symphonies are available separately at considerably greater expense if you would rather be more selective. If you are determined to follow that route then my recommendation is that you start with the CD of Lirica and then move to the Second and Sixth.

What of the performances and recordings? Järvi knows his Tubin very well. Heaven knows how many times he conducted the Estonian radio orchestra in Tubin works before his own flight from the homeland. He recorded the Sixth Symphony on a Melodiya LP (now reissued on a small American label (a disc reviewed elsewhere in this site FORTE CLASSICS AOR-16, Further details from distributors:-Artists Only! Records, West Coast Office, 9644 Lochinvar St, Pico Rivera, CA90660, phone 562 948 3008; fax 562 948 2608. www.artistsonly.com) and became the emissary in chief for Tubin across the world. The Fifth is driven as is the Third, full of the sort of chaffing energy we find in Stravinsky's Symphony in C but more humane, I think. Rhythmic life is one of Tubin's hallmarks and he does not lose sight of this even in contemplative serenades such as the looping and weaving andante of the Fifth.

These works are predominantly dark or chilly. A midnight shiver and glimmering casts a spell over the high pianissimo of the opening of the Second Symphony which is nominally Sibelian. The finale of No. 2 after a blurted out brass alarm launches a mysterious piano-adumbrated chase with suggestions of a jazzy high-hat drumkit. The Sixth Symphony often has the protagonists standing near the edge of abyss - aware of the chaos below and the coarse-coursing attack that drives Tubin further and further from conventionality. That said he does not dally with dodecaphony though a dissonance, freely applied in the manner of Prokofiev, is part of his armoury. Tubin's powers and principalities do indeed clash by night as in the caustic mysteries of the Eighth Symphony. Their conflicts are played out in sunlit regions although, as in the finale of the Third, Tubin is not averse to glowing heroics. That line can be traced into the Fourth which is well named the Lirica. You can make easy converts to the Tubin cause if you go straight to the second movement allegro of this work which dances along with potent fragrances from Borodin and Rimsky mixed among the gestural Prokofiev material. After the prayerful mood of the andante the joyous and straight-talking Allegro, decked out with the warm rolling sway of horn calls, makes its smiling mark. This is a concert performance given in Bergen in 1981 - a concert that ignited the Tubin renaissance as much as BBC Northern's 1977 broadcast of George Lloyd's Eighth Symphony was the progenitor of the Lloyd revival. Tubin's Ninth is stark and sober; relatively difficult to grasp - in this respect comparable with Rubbra's Eighth (Teilhard de Chardin) and Tenth (da Camera). The 1937 Toccata chaffs along with piano and brass providing galvanic ignition. The Seventh Symphony mixes grotesquerie with the sort of bleak sea-wandering you hear in Nystroem's Sinfonia del Mare, Slavonic witchery and mysterious pattering marches. The single movement Tenth is resolutely dark-toned and at times has the bleakness of late Mahler (Symphonies 9 and 10).

The ballet Kratt (The Goblin) was premiered in 1943 in Tartu. It was a joint collaboration with the dancer Elfriede Saarik, later to become his wife. He wove into it some thirty Estonian folk songs and dances. I hope that one day we will get to hear the complete ballet. For now we must make do with this eleven movement suite grouped into three tracks. It lasts twenty-three minutes. Stage nightmare music like that from Nutcracker characterises some of the Dance of the Goblin. The music establishes parallels with Prokofiev and in the solo violin music with the peripatetic village fiddlers. This prompts thoughts of Gunnar de Frumerie and of Holmboe tracing paths of autochthonous renewal already followed in their own countries by Kodaly, Holmboe (Rumania in his case), Bartók, Grainger, Moeran and Vaughan Williams. This is music of strange vistas, distant sunsets, blurted fanfares, icy upheavals and the brash griping of ignorant armies clashing by night. Ibsen’s Peer Gynt would have understood the belligerence that creases and ruckles this landscape. The dances of The Goat and The Cock are related to Shostakovich's scathing imagery. The concluding Dance of the Northern Lights (a Tubin fixation expressed in the Sixth Symphony and the Second Piano Sonata) slams along in the manner of Mossolov and the final braying 'raspberry' from the brass shouts a defiance that was intended to be subversive. If we can have the whole of The Limpid Stream and The Age of Gold, I see no reason why we should not have the complete Kratt.

The recording quality across this set is, for Bis, typically natural, unglitzy, certainly muscular, eschewing zooming and contrived balances and devastatingly focused.

The creation of this set had been ingeniously managed. The discs of pairs of symphonies are a straight lift from individual CDs all still on the retail shelves: 2/6 (Bis 304), 3/8 (Bis 337) and 4/9 (the earliest release, on Bis 227). The First was originally coupled with the Balalaika Concerto on Bis 351 and the Fifth from Bis 306 where it coexisted with the Kratt suite. The Seventh is from Bis 491 where it shared with the Piano Concertino. The Tenth migrates from Bis 297 where it is accompanied by the spareness and restraint of the Requiem for Fallen Soldiers.

An epic pilgrimage then - both temporal (331 minutes and 20 seconds) and of the spirit. The Finnish Alba set is still in train and making very slow going. The Bis has the advantage of Järvi whose insights and authority must be valued. How sad that there is no trace of the Olav Roots' broadcasts of the first four symphonies. I wonder how they differed, if at all, from Järvi's readings.

Rob Barnett



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