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Erkki-Sven TÜÜR (b. 1959)
Symphony No.3 (1997)
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1996)
Lighthouse (1997)
David Geringas (cello)
Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien/Dennis Russell Davies
Recorded: ORF Studio, Vienna, July-August 1998
ECM NEW SERIES 1673 (465 134-2) [63:33]

Tüür is the most prominent Estonian composer after Pärt and Sumera. He has a sizeable output to his credit, including three symphonies, concertos for cello (1996) and violin (1997), chamber music (including the Architectonics series), some choral works (such as the imposing oratorio Ante Finem Saeculi and the Requiem) and an opera Wallenberg first performed in 2001 in Dortmund. He has so far been well served with commercial recordings of his music. With his early background in rock music, Tüür developed a generously non-dogmatic approach to composition. His recent music, as represented on this disc, often aims at a synthesis of the various trends that have influenced his making as a composer: rock, avant-garde and Minimalism, to name a few. However, he has managed to forge a highly personal musical language, that has little to do with mere eclecticism. In this respect, he might be compared to Mark-Anthony Turnage, with a similar background, albeit in jazz rather than rock. Both have patiently and fastidiously developed a highly personal approach to music fusing seemingly disparate elements into one musically coherent whole. This is often characterised by some fiercely forward-driving energy as well as by some disarmingly touching tenderness or a pinch of humour. Both possess a remarkable orchestral flair, an almost endless imagination and an inborn sense of drama. Another characteristic common to both composers is the sense of direction displayed in their music, a quality so often missing in modern music. Last, both write in an overtly modern, uncompromising, but immensely accessible idiom that cannot but endear them to performers and audiences.

Like the Second Symphony, Tüürís Symphony No.3 is in two movements, but unlike those of the Second Symphony, its two movements (Contextus I and II ) are of fairly equal length. The first movement, Vision of the Second Symphony lasts a mere six minutes, whereas the second one, Process plays for some twenty minutes. Formally and structurally, though, these symphonies have little to do with any traditional symphonic pattern, but nevertheless possess a logic of their own. The symphonies by Lepo Sumera that do not adhere to any traditional symphonic mould either. Tüürís music often moves in gigantic sound-waves, in which basic material is constantly renewed, sometimes beyond recognition, which thus enhances the formal coherence of the pieces. Incidentally, but importantly, Tüür was born and often composes on the Baltic island of Hiiumaa; it is hardly surprising that the sea is so often present in his music, as it was in Brittenís. His music, however, is neither descriptive nor programmatic; and the works heard here are clearly abstract pieces of music, even if one cannot deny their obviously dramatic content. The opening bars of the Third Symphony are deceptively simple: some jazzy pizzicati on double basses over a soft cymbal trill. This hesitant start gets more animated, and in a rapid crescendo gives way to some nervous orchestral interjections ending with a massive brass outburst. Order is temporarily restored by the drumís regular beat. The strings attempt to assert themselves but are interrupted by the drumís beat. Another attempt seems at first more successful, but is again interrupted, until the strings finally succeed in being on their own, stubbornly ignoring the various orchestral interjections. At long last, the woodwinds pick up the stringsí dancing phrases; Tüürís own view of Pärtís tintinabuli style, as it were. The music gains considerable momentum, the drumís beat this time enhancing the forward drive of the music rather than trying to stop it. After a powerful climax, the music tiptoes into silence. The second movement, too, opens in utter tranquillity, in a nocturnal mood, dispelled by a brief but sonorous build-up giving way to some undulating woodwind gestures and strings chords. A short-lived climax leads into a calmer section, primarily for strings, again with some woodwind flurries punctuated by brief brass fanfares. The music slowly builds-up to another short-lived climax. A last massive orchestral build-up supported by the drumís beat from the first movement quickly dissolves into silence.

The Cello Concerto is in one single movement, in which the soloist is present almost from first to last, with little respite. The sombre, often troubled mood of the piece is emphasised by the almost surreal context in which the soloistís part is imbedded. The music again unfolds in waves, often characterised by fanciful, dancing melodies, interrupted Ė or rather Ė contradicted by orchestral interjections. Some melodic turns of phrase in Tüürís music often evoke Martinůís capricious melodies, i.e. in spirit rather than letter. As with much in TŁŁrís output, the Cello Concerto is an abstract, dramatic work with many contrasting episodes, either energetic or almost static, meditative and impassioned. The Cello Concerto ends quietly.

Lighthouse, a commission from the Ansbach Bach-Woche, is a brilliant work for strings appropriately built on the B-A-C-H motive; but in Tüürís own way, in which often disparate elements are brought into a musically satisfying synthesis. There is nothing of the Neo-classical imitation one might have expected, although Tüürís rhythmic devices might be experienced as updated Bach figurations. He even indulges in a short fugal passage. That said, the sound-world of the piece is entirely Tüürís own.

Well, yes, I suppose that my enthusiasm for this composerís music is fairly evident. His is a really distinctive voice. Here is a composer for whom communication is paramount, and who is not afraid to use any device that may suit his aims, although he always succeeds in avoiding mere eclecticism. His performers obviously relish each note of the music and play with commitment and conviction. Excellent recording and production.

Hubert Culot

See also review by Terry Barfoot

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