> Swan Flight Tormis, Debussy, Sibelius, Anu Tali [GPJ]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Swan Flight
Veljo TORMIS (b.1930)
Ocean; Swan Flight
Claude DEBUSSY (1868-1918) La Mer
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957) Swan of Tuonela
Estonian-Finnish Symphony Orchestra/Anu Tali
Recorded Estonia Concert Hall, Tallin, Estonia July 200, June 2001
FINLANDIA 8573-89876 [70:41]


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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 Tallin.

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 rest.

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 in places.

This is a disc to be treasured, and I canít wait to hear more from the brilliant combination of Tali and the EFSO.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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 significant" works.

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 beautiful.

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!

Christopher Thomas

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)


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