The packaging of this CD is covered with images of
its conductor, to an extent that might be thought excessive even by
modern standards. It is perhaps forgivable, however, as Anu Tali is
a strikingly beautiful young woman, and this is one of the first issues
with her very own Estonia-Finnish Symphony Orchestra. I say Ďher very
owní; in fact the orchestra is apparently the creation of her and her
twin sister, Kadri. Kadri takes care of the management side of things,
while Anu looks after the music. The multi-national orchestra Ė it contains
Americans and Brits as well as Estonians and Finns - was first convened
in 1997, and has been meeting for several months a year ever since.
It is a thrilling and inspiring new venture, especially so in a country
which is still relatively poor, and only just emerging properly from
the era of Communism.
So forget the packaging and listen to the music. As
soon as you do that, any lingering thoughts of violinists in wet tee-shirts,
or of pre-pubescent sopranos fly out of the window. This disc contains
serious music-making of a very high order. The EFSO is a magnificent
band, Tali directs the music with passionate commitment and a strong
sense of purpose, and itís all captured in a very fine recording, making
excellent use of the natural ambience of the Estonia Concert Hall in
This is a beautifully executed disc, but also beautifully
planned, for the style of the unfamiliar Tormis seems to owe
a great deal to both Debussy and Sibelius. All the pieces begin softly
in the depths, and, uncannily, Swan Flight even commences with
the little phrase, with its rising major second to a Ďscotch snapí rhythm,
which we have just heard as one of the crucial motifs in the Debussy.
Understandably, the issue focuses on the music of the
Estonian composer, even though La Mer is of course the best-known
work here. Tormisís Ocean is a suite of incidental music that
he wrote for a play by Alexandr Stein back in 1961. As befits music
for the stage, it is sharply characterised and brilliantly, if fairly
simply, orchestrated. It is full of memorable musical images, framed
by stormy music depicting the sea, and passing through a multitude of
moods, from the violence of Anger, through the Sibelian shimmer
of Snowstorm, and taking in two delightful and intoxicating waltzes.
Swan Flight, a suite taken from Tormisís music
for the opera Luigelend, is a rather later and texturally more
complex piece. I mentioned the link with La Mer above; the real
link, though, is with Sirènes from Debussyís Nocturnes,
for we have here a wordless female choir (the excellent choir isnít
clearly credited), suggesting the calls of the swans, around whose story
the opera revolves. This is wonderfully evocative music, subtler than
Ocean, though clearly from the same stable, and full of
the same vivid touches of instrumentation and melodic invention. Not
earth-shatteringly original music perhaps, but highly individual
and superbly fashioned.
Naturally, it is the Debussy that we must turn to in
order to get an idea of how good, on an Ďinternationalí scale, these
performers really are. And the answer turns out to be very good indeed.
This is a really terrific version of La Mer, and I do hope sales
of the CD donít suffer because they, rather bravely, havenít Ďheadlinedí
this, the best-known piece. Tali has a wonderful sense of the pace
of the music, keeping it moving forward, yet setting tempi that allow
the players to shape the phrases with the sort of loving care they need.
Iíve rarely heard a more beautifully played account, and for me the
real eye- (or rather ear-) opener was the middle movement Jeux de
Vagues (Games of waves), which has never had a greater sense of
wild, glittering abandon.
Tali also has a fine sense of balance (helped of course
by the Finlandia engineers); all the subtleties of orchestration come
out, barely a detail is lost, yet I donít feel any sense of spot-lighting.
Brass and percussion blaze and crash as they should, without overwhelming
The final item is the wonderful Swan of Tuonela
of Sibelius, one of his Lemminkäinen tone-poems. This gets
a most sensitive performance, though I wouldnít say Pirjo Leppänen,
who plays the demanding cor anglais solo, is the most sweet-toned exponent
of the instrument. On the other hand, this is deeply-felt playing, and
the slight rawness of tone adds a further poignancy to the expression
This is a disc to be treasured, and I canít wait to
hear more from the brilliant combination of Tali and the EFSO.
Chris Thomas adds:
Lest I forget to say later on in this review (which
is very unlikely) let me point out right away that Anu Tali, the twenty-nine
year old conductor and co-founder of the Estonian-Finnish Symphony Orchestra
is beautiful. Stunningly so in fact. So much so that in this age of
commercial glamorisation of our artists her looks must be a dream come
true for any record company; so much so that her pictures adorn both
the front, inside and rear covers of the CD case, as well as the booklet.
So much so that other than giving the disc the title Swan Flight,
after the suite by Tormis, Finlandia forgot to name the composers represented
on the front of the case. Still, enough of this soap box banter. The
vital question is does Tali, Finlandiaís proud new signing, match her
stunning looks with equally stunning artistic ability? Well, I am delighted
to say that on the evidence of this first recording, I believe she does
and it could be a winning combination for the future.
The pedigree is unquestionable. After completing her
studies at the Tallinn Music High School and Estonian Music Academy
she spent two years at the St. Petersburg State Conservatory, studying
with the legendary conducting guru Ilya Musin, followed by master classes
with the equally legendary Jorma Panula at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.
The Estonian-Finnish Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1997 by Anu and
her twin sister Kadri, with the intention of developing cultural relations
between Estonia and Finland whilst involving young musicians from all
over the world (there are currently about fifteen countries represented).
Kadri still acts as the commercial manager of both the orchestra and
Anu. The players get together around five times a year and the repertoire
covers the core classics as well as contemporary and "culturally
What struck me most forcefully on first listening to
the disc was the youthful freshness of the playing. La Mer has
a bracing breeze-like vigour about it. Admittedly, it may just lack
that final ounce of finesse and character to compare with the finest
recordings but it is immediately clear that Anu Tali has the measure
of the music in the control, finely judged pacing and sensitivity to
the textural nuances of Debussyís scoring that she shows. Credit too,
to the orchestra for a truly luxurious sound that is remarkably mature
given the relatively young age of the players and their limited experience
together as a band.
No more than ten years separate Tormisís incidental
music Ocean from the concert suite Swan Flight, drawn
from his opera Luigeland. Although in many ways the two suites
are worlds apart from each other, the coupling with Debussy is an appropriate
one, not only in terms of the obvious oceanic connections but also because
Debussyís presence is often discernible in Tormisís music. The suite
Ocean is framed by two related outer movements, brooding and
restless in character, whilst the central movements range from a Sailorís
Farewell Dance with hints of Khachaturian and perhaps Shostakovich
in film music mode, to Dreams, a brief yet delightfully wistful
movement that builds to a warm central climax. The sixth movement, Snowstorm,
is not so much a storm as a beautifully delicate picture of snow dancing
on the wind, played with wonderful sensitivity by the orchestra. In
comparison, the chamber opera Luigeland, based on a novel by
Osvald Tooming, is an altogether more profound work, dealing with the
conflict between humanity and nature and the ensuing quest for its resolution.
The symbolic calls of the swans (represented by a female chorus, here
sung by the Girls Choir Ellerhein but not credited on the cover) in
the opening and closing movements again bind the suite together and
are perhaps the most overt reference to Debussy and possibly Ravelís
Daphnis and Chloé. This is Tormis on characteristic ground,
highly attractive and tuneful music that is at once appealing and in
the case of Swan Flight in particular, thought provoking.
Sibeliusís gloriously other-worldly, mist shrouded
Lemminkäinen legend, The Swan of Tuonela, is given a suitably
atmospheric performance, again demonstrating playing of sensitivity
and awareness, which at its finest moments is nothing short of mesmerisingly
In all of these works, orchestra and conductor are
aided by a fine recording, captured with excellent dynamic range and
fine transparency by the Finlandia engineers.
I am left in no doubt that in Anu Tali and the Estonian-Finnish
Symphony Orchestra, we have two newcomers with major international futures
ahead of them. Watch this space!
In Anu Tali and the Estonian-Finnish Symphony Orchestra
we have two newcomers with major international futures ahead of them.
Ö see Full Review
Anu and Kadri Tali (picture
from CITY PAPER - the Baltic States www.BalticsWorldwide.com)