Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line




Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett



Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS
 Amazon recommendations


Eduard TUBIN (1905-1982)
The Complete Piano Music

Six Preludes (1927/28; 1934; 1935)
Sonata No. 1 (1928)
Variations on an Estonian Folk Tune (1945)
Ballade on a Theme by Mart Saar (1945)
Four Folk Songs from my Country (1947)
Sonatina in D minor (1949)
Seven Preludes (1976)
Suite on Estonian Shepherd Melodies (1959)
Sonata No. 2 (1950)
Three Pieces for Children (1935)
A Little March, for Rana (1978)
Lullaby (1925)
Album Leaf (1926)
Three Estonian Folk-dances (1978)
Prelude No. 1 (1949).
Vardo Rumessen (piano)
Rec Sept-Oct 1988, Danderyd Grammar School, Sweden
BIS-CD-414/416 [180.10]


The Twentieth Century's harvest of music yielded variety greater than that provided by any other century.

In the field of piano music the century moved from widespread technical literacy to a small field of celebrity players whose art is experienced in concert and on various forms of sound carrier. At the start of the century learning the piano was one of the necessary social accomplishments in most of the so-called civilised world. Now, just into the new millennium, few learn the instrument as a social skill. If it is learnt it is with a view to a musical career.

The variety of music encompassed by the century ran from Ketèlbey, Joplin, Mayerl and Confrey through to Godowsky, Holbrooke, Bliss, Bax, R S Coke, Lionel Sainsbury and Medtner in the middle ground to the severity, danger and profusion of Shostakovich, Sorabji, Ronald Stevenson, Howard Ferguson, Czeslaw Marek, John Foulds and Malcolm Macdonald.

In the wilder extremities we encounter experimentalists like Cage, Stockhausen, Ornstein, Henry Cowell and Conlon Nancarrow whose preludes for prepared player-piano are far too little known and remain beautiful despite the 'mechanical' element.

The Nordic countries have not, in general, been thought of as originators of fine piano music. Grieg, Palmgren, Sinding and, more up to date, Rosenberg are exceptions. Sibelius wrote plenty as the lumbering but valuable BIS, Continuum and Naxos cycles prove but the best of Sibelius is not for the keyboard although Kyllikki has its moments as Glenn Gould proved in his CBS recording.

For those who know of Eduard Tubin, the Estonian composer exiled to Sweden, his fame rests on his symphonies of which there are ten and the stub of an eleventh. Vardo Rumessen, long an active ambassador for Estonian music, is president of the International Tubin Society. A pianist of world rank he has put a global career to one side and instead has promoted Estonian music with a vigour and luminous advocacy matched by an outstanding intellectual and artistic reach.

The first disc announces itself with the Six Preludes - products of the Estonian years (1927-35). They range through Debussian grave beauty (Jardin sous la pluie) in Nos. 1 and 2 to grave beauty to the haunted Baxian hill-song of No. 3 and spring-like freshness of 4 and 5 (the latter a joyous walking song) to the militant sourness of No. 6.

The Sonatina No. 1 is his first large-scale work at 32.20. It was written in Heino Eller's class. Four movements were written but only three survived. The first is a big span of splintery grandeur - Chopin into Rachmaninov - lively with pearly filigree. It was sold by the composer as a separate work. The second movement is a rollicking dark scherzo. The andante mesto is highly romantic standing apart from the impressionistic tendency of the preludes.

Hallilaul (1925) is virtually a prelude in oils of Nordic impressionism. The Album Leaf (1926) is a simpler version of the preludes. The Three Pieces for Children (1935) are out of a Petrushkan music box. Similarly inclined is the sturdy little March for Rana (1978). The Three Estonian Folk Dances whisk us through a heavy-footed stomp via a rustic whirl to a flat-footed distant shade of a birthday song. The Prelude No. 1 (1949) exudes an exhausted and malign smile with desperate business in hand followed by a trudge and finished by a single downward slashing figure.

Folk music was a strong current in Tubin's music as is evident from the 1945 Variations on an Estonian Folk Tune (1945, rev 1981) [11.54] which is highly coloured and exciting, running ragged variations on two folk tunes and achieving a splendid tragic nobility.

The Ballade on a theme by Mart Saar (1945) [10.12] is on Saar's choral song Seven Moss Clad Tombs. It was written in Stockholm. Archaic gravity swings this bell-swung piece. Its grim jaw-set is like that of the 1949 prelude - not at all soft-edged. This is a Bardic oration ending with typically Rachmaninovian austere sweep.

The Four Folk Songs from My Country [15.06] are from 1947. The carefree music-box rondel of the first does not prepare the listener for the darkened goblin paths of the second song linked as it is with his music for the Kratt ballet. The Polka of the third has many a rustic hiccup as well as the dissonant pepper of the Estonian zither. The final section rises to a craggy splendour out of dissonance and a medley of rhythmic disruption.

The Sonatina No. 1 began life as a Sonata. Its pith and marrow is from hyper-romantic genetic material flooded with flourishes and nobility. The work opens up a new acreage of repertoire where Rachmaninov could be rested and instead works like this and the preludes of Tobias, Tubin and Eller would be lofted high alongside works such as the Lionel Sainsbury Preludes. The Sonatina stands midstream between Tubin's sonatas 1 and 2. Expression becomes more awkward in the second movement but this is still a highly romantic apparatus. The movement ends as if at a bier-side. The presto cuts a Gallic dash and a lighter mood than you associate with the Tubin of the cold notes. He soon reasserts himself in echoing stone, the play of ice and the crackle of fire.

The third CD opens with Seven Preludes (1976) [14.34]. The score is marked 'Handen, October 1976'. These works were premiered by Rumessen in June 1977. The second is clearly influenced by the grotesquerie of Shostakovich in which Tubin mixes a shimmer which, to me, suggests the Northern Lights. The petulant Third Prelude's argumentative impatience gives way to the resolute and terse Fourth. The Fifth is based on an Estonian tune which shimmies like a North African melody and develops in directions which are hard and joyous. The finale uses a chaconne - a favourite device - developing an impressive defiance.

The seven part Suite on Estonian Shepherd Melodies (1959) takes us through many transformations from lonely eminence, Prokofievian shatter, to the impressionistic wash of the rain. This is writing which seems to shadow the filigree of Godowsky's Java Suite and of Bax's Winter Legends. The movements are very brief. The final andante wanders dreamy classical pastures in the same sun-dazzled mood found in Bantock's Pagan Symphony. Many Scandinavian composers empathised with a classical Mediterranean Elysium.

The Second Sonata [25.08] is separated by twenty-two years from the First Sonata and has 4pp of the booklet devoted to it. The first movement's feathery dashing glitter has a touch or ten of cold inhumanity. The swirling winds of conflict are typically Nordic like Nystroem's storms in Iskavet. Other composers are recalled: Ornstein's gales of notes, Mossolov's dexterity, Prokofiev's steely wartime sonatas. The accessibility of the music is let in by Tubin's Rachmaninovian accent discernible among stone-hewn flurries and dark matters suggestive of John Ireland's Ballade. The cold Lapp tunes of the second movement chart the far side of Saturn or Holst's cold Betelgeuse with awkward fistfuls of notes. The iron-shod Prokofiev hammering of the wartime sonatas returns in the third movement with the shimmering aurora borealis cold, supernal and threatening in its disconnection from humanity. This Sonata should be taken up by Mark Gasser whose staggering performance of Ronald Stevenson's Passacagalia on DSCH is available from him at mark@piano.freeserve.co.uk or by Raymond Clarke, Murray Mclachlan or Marc-André Hamelin.

The booklet is 84 pages long with notes in English, French and German. The English version covers 20 pages. It is delightfully crowded with pictures of the composer and includes forty music exx.

There is no feeling anywhere in the collection that Rumessen or BIS are going through a routine exercise. There is nothing of the feeling of the dutiful surface skating evident in some 'complete works' sets.

The cover of the CD features a 1973 mezzotint Norrskenet (Northern Lights), Kaljo Pollu.

No collection already including the piano music of Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Marek, Stevenson or Sorabji is complete without this set. The music ranges through various gradations from pleasantrie to a hard-eyed and intelligent romanticism.


Return to Index

Untitled Document


Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.