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Eduard TUBIN (1905-82)
Symphony no. 3 in D minor (1940-42); Symphony no. 8 (1966)
Swedish Radio SO/Neeme Järvi
Rec. Stockholm, 1980s DDD
BIS-CD-342 [62' 46"]


This Third Symphony is a cracker.

I immediately recommend you buy this disc.

It is almost exclusively to the conductor Neeme Järvi that we owe a real debt of gratitude for making known the works of Eduard Tubin since he introduced them to the West while he was living in the USA.

Tubin was born in 1905 in Estonia close to the border with Russia. Eduard inherited a lot of music from his brother who died young. His father played the trumpet in a village band and was a tailor by trade and enjoyed fishing. In his duties looking after the pigs young Eduard played the flute. Who says a composer's life is a glamorous one? His father sold a calf to enable his son to have music lessons and he also learned to play the balalaika. When Eduard was still young, Estonia declared its independence and was attacked by Russian communists and the Germany army. Eduard studied at Tartu and became a teacher and conducted the College choir. He gave the first performances in Estonia of Debussy's La demoiselle élue and Stravinsky's evergreen Symphonies of Wind Instruments.

While in Budapest he showed his first two symphonies to Zoltan Kodaly who was a great encouragement. I have never understood why the congenial William Walton did not like Kodaly! I believe it was Kodaly's unassuming influence that led Tubin to visit Estonian islands to collect folk songs.

His beloved Estonia was invaded in 1940 by Soviet troops. Tubin was head of composition at Tartu at the time. He was sent reluctantly to Leningrad to study Soviet music and culture. Eventually he was exiled in Stockholm where he directed a male voice choir.

Neeme Järvi emigrated from Sweden to the USA in 1980 and programmed works by fellow Estonians including Tubin.

The Symphony no. 8 of 1966 is an introspective work in four movements written in the twentieth year of his exile in Stockholm. It is a sinister work sometimes sparse like the desolate Finnish landscapes that Sibelius realised so effectively. The music often has a chamber orchestra feel about it. The opening andante quasi adagio is deeply felt and sounds to me like a very sober lament rising and falling in various degrees of tension. But there is always a menacing undercurrent and an unbearable tragedy. It is not comfortable music. Perhaps it is nostalgic longing for his own country. Some of the melodic fragments suggest folk songs. The orchestration is remarkably clear and expertly textured. Beautiful if a little strange! The second movement is marked allegro moderato often curiously subdued again and marked by economy but not miserliness. Some outbursts occur which heighten the tension and the movement is clearly held together by recurring wisps of melody. The movement ends with an alarm. There follows an allegro vivace but it is not that vivace. It seems to be a protest movement and it builds up to a great climax with cymbals, tam-tam and braying horns and energetic strings. The protest is a procession which: is coming, is there and disappears into the distance! The coda is sinister and decidedly creepy!

The finale is slow marked lento, tenuto e maestoso. The brass chorale is uncanny and uncomfortable as is the rest of the movement. Don't be put off by the word lento. The music does not grind but it does not always flow either. There is some eventual drama which is very impressive with a long high soaring and beautiful violin line and crashing tam-tam!

This is clearly a very personal symphony and , while I do not like comparisons, I think I could safely compare this with Sibelius's Symphony no. 4 in A. You either love it or hate it. But with Tubin's Eighth there is an extraordinary chilling beauty!

The Symphony no. 3 began in 1940 when Estonia was occupied by the Soviet army. The opening largo has a march like style and a glorious soaring violin line supported by horns. The march develops into a very impressive procession. I am sure Robert Farnon, had this, or something like this in mind, when he wrote the Colditz March. This largo leads into a rugged fugue or fugato but, as with Shostakovich, it seems to portray the war machine, the invaders. The orchestral punctuation is quite staggering and the Swedish orchestra is very fine and I need not comment about its conductor. At 5.20 there is a soulful tune reminiscent perhaps of the folk songs of Hiiumaa. The energico section is full of high drama with bold rugged music with crashing tamtam and a vital drive, superbly orchestrated. Shrill flutes, vigorous strings and sinister percussion all add to the excitement and it is real excitement. Sometimes the music sounds like a mighty cathedral organ at full throttle!

Despite the highly scored orchestration all is clear in this amazing performance. Be warned, hold on to your hats for the final minute. You will want to jump up and applaud. It is that good!

The second movement is quick, too. It is headed molto allegro e temptestoso. Here Järvi exercises great control in an agitated piece full of nervous and uneasy energy. The tension becomes too much. We know we are heading for an explosion. We are fooled once when we think it is about to happen but when it does it is simply terrifyingly marvellous! The moments of calm are necessary. There is a violin solo of some pathos, played by Bernt Lysell, who just avoids being sugary, a lone voice, a voice in the wilderness lamenting the despicable acts of the Soviets but who will listen? Who cares but Estonians? This is lovely music, so human and so real. The agitation returns and approaches with menace hiding periodically and then re-emerging and with the vicious tread of despots. The end is a surprise more akin to Mendlessohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream than anything else.

Largo, maestoso is the heading for the finale but this is not a slow quiet tedious piece. Often it hits you between the eyes. Curiously there is a warmth. After the premiere in Tallinn on 26 February 1943 the conductor Olav Roots spoke of "the music's despair, obstinacy and hatred which overcame a race who wanted to regain its lost independence." This finale highlights confidence and the strength of the Estonia people. No wonder the Estonian public gave it a prolonged and standing ovation. There seem to be several marches playing all at once and a nobilmente devoid of pompous arrogance! The ending is both colossal and exciting!

The sound engineers have done a great job!

This is a memorable disc.

David Wright


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