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Estonian Composers - Estonian Contemporary Classics Vol. 1
Ester MÅGI (b.1922) Vesper for strings (1990) [5.21]
Raimo KANGRO (1949-2001) Display IX (1997) [10.50]
Lepo SUMERA (1950-2000) Shakespeare Sonnets: 8 and 90 (1996) [16.17]
Eino TAMBERG (b.1930) [10.52] Desiderium Concordiae (1997) [11.12]
Toivo TULEV (b.1958) String Quartet No. 1 (1991) [11.12]
Rene EESPERE (b.1953) Glorificatio (1990) [5.41]
Veljo TORMIS (b.1930) Suite from the film score Kevade (1969) [10.18]
Tallinn Quartet (Tulev)
Pirjo Levandi (sop); Mikk Mikiver (speaker); Estonian Boys Choir/Paul Mågi (Sumera)
Kaia Urb (sop), Academic Male Choir of Tallinn Technical University (Eespere)
Strings of Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Aivo Välja (Mågi)
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Paul Mågi (Tormis; Sumera)
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Arvo Volmer (Eespere)
NYYD Ensemble/Olari Elts (Kangro; Tamberg)
Rec. 1994-2001
EESTI RADIO ERCD 031 [71.26]

 

This Estonian Radio disc is one of a series of four sponsored by the Ministry of Culture of the Estonian Republic. The site has received three of the four volumes in the series courtesy of Martin Anderson, one of the foremost UK authorities on the Scandinavian/Baltic scene. The recordings are culled from very good quality Estonian broadcasting tapes made and presumably broadcast during the 1990s. Colleagues will be reviewing the other two.

Ester Magi is the only woman in this company. Her Vesper has some similarities with Hovhaness. At times the listener will think that is going to be the Baltic equivalent of Hovhaness's three Armenian Rhapsodies. Unison massed strings sing a dignified song leavened by some briefly playful pizzicato decoration and some quiet capricious play from the solo violin (3.13). This was first written for violin and piano and was arranged for string orchestra in 1998.

Kangro's Display IX is for wind and percussion ensemble and bass guitar - part Kurt Weill, part Shostakovich and part Stravinsky. This is pawkily playful music, with hints of Handel in collision with The Rite of Spring, yawing trombone caterwauling (6.53), jazzy dawn choruses and some minimalist passages. It is all most succinctly laid out for the ear. Stunningly misbehaved music.

Then come Sumera's Straussianly sumptuous Shakespeare Sonnets. These would subsist happily alongside Walton's Songs for the Lord Mayor's Table, Strauss's Four Last Songs and Nicholas Maw's Scenes and Arias. The surprise is the role for speaking voice and children's choir. The writing in each case while starting in some fairly super-heated romantic realms becomes increasingly spare and serene in its singable simplicity. The words are printed in full which is helpful because although Pirjo Levandi makes a gorgeous sound (a natural for Rosenkavalier) but you simply cannot hear individual words. Sonnet 90 also sounds positively operatic. The notes say that these two pieces seem preparatory to work on Sumera's 1997 opera Olivia's Masterclass.

The ten minute Tamberg piece is for an ensemble of flute, clarinet, trumpet, percussion, piano and cello. Its starts fast and furious and draws on the sort of pawkily dissolute humour you find in the Kangro piece.

Tulev's First String Quartet is in three movements lasting just over 11 minutes in total. This is music of the contemporary ultima thule with the instruments, groaning, screeching, yowling and striving in Penderecki-like torment amid moments of Beethovenian striving (the late quartets) and Tippett-like yearning. He is perhaps a rather extreme version of Urmis Sisask in his admirable devotion to seeking that ‘ferne klang’ in some very arcane regions.

Eespere's Glorificatio is for soprano (Kaia Urb), smoothly coaxing men's voices and orhcestra. This is a sensationally serene and emotionally affecting piece which is Rutter like in its simplicity complete with entwining solo violin and clarinet. This is a superb discovery and I hope to hear more of the works of Mr Eespere .. if only.

Veljo Tormis has written music for thirty films. His music for the 1969 Kevade is here featured in a five movement ten minute suite. It is light as crane's down, as melodic as Lars-Erik Larsson and dramatic in Misadventure on Brittle Ice. Each segment is like a miniature atmospheric summary or delicate landscape. This is music lucidly and accessibly constructed and expressed - not exactly memorable but affecting, playful and in the final Spring Time instinct with an arc of angelic joys somewhat like the alleluias of the angels in Finzi's In Terra Pax.

Like everything else about this disc the booklet is extremely well designed. It supplies all the essential information in both Estonian and English.

A varied collection in which even in the extremes of the Tulev quartet the orientation towards song is a common and smiling thread.

Rob Barnett


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