Eres Edition, D-28859, Lilienthal/Bremen PO Box 12 20


Urmas SISASK (b.1960)
Zodiak - Star Music for Piano

Zodiak Op. 50 (1994) [25.39] (1-12)
Der Weihnachtsstern Capella Op. 56 (1995) [8.49] (13-19)
Zyklus des Sternenhimmels für Kinder Cassiopeia (1975-77) [9.06] (20-23)
Das Sechseck des Himmels - Möwe und Wasser Op. 57 (1996) [18.44] (24-30)
Pianists: Urmas Sisask (b.1960) 1-23, 24, 26; Peep Lassmann (b. 1948) 27; Rein Rannap (b. 1953) 29; Vardo Rumessen (b. 1942) 30; Lauri Väinmaa (b. 1961) 25; Urmas Sisask, Lauri Väinmaa 28. DDD
rec. Apr-May 1996, House of the Blackheads, Tallinn, Estonia. DDD
ERES CD 09 [62.43]

In the UK ClassicFM with its laid-back and populist style commands listener numbers approaching three times those of Radio 3. It is commercial and sustained by advertising: Virgin Trains, Kleenex, Halifax etc. Perhaps similar phenomena exist in other countries. In any event ClassicFM while happily playing individual movements of major works and mixing in film music (Saving Private Ryan, Star Wars, Indiana Jones etc) also uses a contemporary genre which you will not see reviewed in Gramophone, Fanfare or International Record Review. Where else will you hear the music of Lodovico Einaudi and Karl Jenkins. A generation in numbers greater than those ever captivated by the staples of Radio 3 is growing to redefine the fences that mark out the classical field. These composers' commercially astute and calculated brand of tuneful undemanding minimalism blended with World Music and religious strands is doing very well thank you. The station even picks up and popularises kindred pieces such as Arvo Part's Spiegel im Spiegel (also on an ERES CD). I rather hope that their presenters will start to think outside the envelope and tap into the similar music of Urmas Sisask, Alan Hovhaness, Will Todd, Lionel Sainsbury, Kapustin, Gurdjieff/de Hartmann and Valentin Silvestrov.
Sisask crossed my horizon first in a recital of 20th century Estonian piano music. His music sounds tunefully contemporary in much the same way as that of Rääts and Kapustin. Of the four Sisask sequences here, three date from the period 1994-1996. He has been captivated by the starry firmament since the 1970s and this fruitful obsession continues with more than fifty 'night sky' pieces for solo piano.
The Weihnachtstern Capella (Christmas Chorus) a firmament cycle for children is Sisask at his most approachable with the fourth piece Weihnachtstern using Silent Night in an undiluted way. This cycle is related to Silestrov's parodistic pieces and to the backward gaze of Rochberg and Boiko. Cassiopeia is a Handelian stroll with a touch of Mozart along the way. Orion has harp-like flurries contrasting with a long emphatic tune above ending in the idyllic contentment associated with Beethoven's Piano Concertos 3 and 4.
The 1975-77 sequence of four pieces has Sirius that is catastrophic and forbidding but a classically innocent almost pastiche Cassiopeia and this 'music box' quality returns for Capricorn - the last piece. Das Sechseck des Himmels written twenty years later remains essentially lyrical, esoteric, mystical, liquid, deathly. There are times when it sounds like a fragmentation of Michael Nyman's piano concerto. Preparation of the piano and reaching inside it to produce unusual effects can be heard in both Rigel and Sirius - the latter has a Caribbean style rumba picked out clear-eyed but accompanied by a quiet metallic clangour inside the piano. The motoric, jazzy ostinato in Procyon rises to dizzying hammered speed in the hands of Rein Rannap then dissipates into watery evocation - part Debussy part Hovhaness. This last mood is sustained in the skilled hands of Vardo Rumessen in Castor.
The twelve pieces in the Zodiac cycle include Aries (minimalist and oriental), Taurus (a touch of the halting and rushing of Balakirev's Islamey), Zwillinge (dark fractured as is also the case in Rigel im Orion from the Op. 57 set), Krebs (a lightly imagined delicate dance of the waters - almost John Ireland's On a May Morning), Leo (a broad rolling bravura ripple - Nyman-like), Virgo (playfully brusque transformed into reflective quietude), Scorpio (creepingly sinister with shards of the pattern from Aries), Schütze (coruscating heroism - the Rachmaninov of the Etudes-Tableaux, dramatic with ragtime 'jump'), Capricorn (a dervish whirl and caper - Gurdjieff meets Mozart), Aquarius (rippling left-hand and sepulchral chords in the right - reminiscent of Lionel Sainsbury's piano music) and Pisces (the oriental twinkling of stars as in Widder)
The notes are in German only.
Deeply rewarding accessible listening for the repertoire explorer. Which of these pieces will be the first to be broadcast on ClassicFM? Let me know.

Rob Barnett

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