> Significatio _ Estonian Chamber Music [GH]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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René EESPERE (b.1953) Significatio for violin, cello and guitar (1999)
Ester MÄGI (b.1922) A duo for flute and guitar (1967); Two Romances for soprano and guitar (1966/98); Three Miniatures for guitar (1996); Two Songs - The Night and With Eyes Closed (1998)
Cadenza and Theme for violin and guitar (1984/99

Peeter VÄHI (b.1955) Dance of the Goddess for guitar (1996)
Lepo SUMERA (1950-2000) Odalisques for flute, guitar and cello (1997/9)
Jaan RÄÄTS (b.1932) Allegro Op.93 for violin and guitar
Kaia Urb, soprano; Janika Lentsius, flute; Urmas Vulp, violin; Henry-David Varema, cello; Heiki Matlik, guitar
Recorded October 1999 in the Art Museum- Toompea, Tallinn

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This disc has been produced by Estonian Radio for the Estonian Music Information Centre, and it concentrates mostly on composers who are important in their own country but whose music has not, as yet, travelled to Britain or possibly in Europe.

Some Estonian composers have made a name for themselves, one need only think of Arvo Pärt, or Peteris Vasks or earlier composers like Kapp and Tubin to realise that in the 20th Century alone is a vast musical heritage to be shared with the West. I haven’t yet touched on folk material and 19th Century composers. The country is, anyway, emerging from a period of artistic suppression and a figure like Ester Mägi has seen quite a few changes in her lifetime. She is Estonia’s leading lady composer, and is well represented on this disc. I had not come across her before nor had I met Vähi, Eespere and Rääts.

These works are for a rare combination of instruments, which favours guitar and violin; perhaps a folk-inspired timbre. As is often the case with any CD of several pieces of new music one warms to some, but probably not all of the works.

Unfortunately my knowledge of these pieces has to remain limited as the booklet verges on the useless. There are brief biographies of each composer, which mentions a few works by each but says nothing whatsoever about the recorded piece. The performers however have quite adequate biographies and photographs. The languages are either Estonian or English. This sort of presentation is clearly not designed with the international market in mind and for a top price CD the company should look again at this policy.

Two works set themselves apart for me as well worth hearing.

Lepo Sumera died last year at barely 50 (the booklet notes were written before his death.) Amongst his many tasks he was Chairman of the Estonian Composers’ Association. He wrote four cantatas, four symphonies, a piano concerto, electro-acoustic music and some fifty film scores. I listened again to his 3rd Symphony (BIS-CD-660) and found, as with this piece, a strongly individual voice writing music of great delicacy, beauty and power. His textures have a metrical independence as at the start of ‘Odalisque’ which create a shimmering tonal landscape like no one else. This can be heard also in the 3rd movement of the 3rd symphony. Sumera is also fond of monophonic passages orchestrated with varying colours as in the third of the four Odalisque movements, entitled Sorrowful Odalisque, and in the symphony’s second movement. The last Odalisque (called Silent) is a virtuoso exercise for solo flute employing microtones. This is superbly carried off by Janika Lentsius. This is a fascinating piece which repays repeat listening.

The other works, which stood out for me, were the two songs, ‘The Night’ and ‘With eyes closed’ by Ester Mägi with the marvellous voice of Kaia Urb. The songs are setting of texts by Viivi Luik. Sadly the texts are not supplied, not even in Estonian, so I have no idea of their meaning. Nevertheless the music is idyllic and marvellously lyrical and melancholy, the cello adding a considerable richness to the texture lacking in the ‘Two Romances’.

The opening work gives the CD its title, and it develops into an intriguing polyphonic web of violin, cello and guitar after a gently melodic start. As for the rest of the pieces I would prefer to draw a discreet veil over them and simply say that another listener is quite as likely to pick out their own favourites from this enterprising disc.

The performers are outstanding. In some cases they make more of the music than it deserves. There is much work for violinist Urmas Vulp whose perfect intonation, as he negotiates some very challenging passages, is miraculous. The acoustic is helpful for chamber music, obviously quite cavernous, but ideal for these combinations where the guitar is an equal partner with the cello and violin. In the solo guitar works, played so sensitively by Heiki Matlik, the bass of the instrument is superbly captured.

Gary Higginson

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