This Third Symphony is a cracker.
I immediately recommend you buy this disc.
It is almost exclusively to the conductor Neeme
Järvi that we owe a real debt of gratitude for making known
the works of Eduard Tubin since he introduced them to the West
while he was living in the USA.
Tubin was born in 1905 in Estonia close to the
border with Russia. Eduard inherited a lot of music from his brother
who died young. His father played the trumpet in a village band
and was a tailor by trade and enjoyed fishing. In his duties looking
after the pigs young Eduard played the flute. Who says a composer's
life is a glamorous one? His father sold a calf to enable his
son to have music lessons and he also learned to play the balalaika.
When Eduard was still young, Estonia declared its independence
and was attacked by Russian communists and the Germany army. Eduard
studied at Tartu and became a teacher and conducted the College
choir. He gave the first performances in Estonia of Debussy's
La demoiselle élue and Stravinsky's evergreen Symphonies
of Wind Instruments.
While in Budapest he showed his first two symphonies
to Zoltan Kodaly who was a great encouragement. I have never understood
why the congenial William Walton did not like Kodaly! I believe
it was Kodaly's unassuming influence that led Tubin to visit Estonian
islands to collect folk songs.
His beloved Estonia was invaded in 1940 by Soviet
troops. Tubin was head of composition at Tartu at the time. He
was sent reluctantly to Leningrad to study Soviet music and culture.
Eventually he was exiled in Stockholm where he directed a male
Neeme Järvi emigrated from Sweden to the
USA in 1980 and programmed works by fellow Estonians including
The Symphony no. 8 of 1966 is an introspective
work in four movements written in the twentieth year of his exile
in Stockholm. It is a sinister work sometimes sparse like the
desolate Finnish landscapes that Sibelius realised so effectively.
The music often has a chamber orchestra feel about it. The opening
andante quasi adagio is deeply felt and sounds to me like a very
sober lament rising and falling in various degrees of tension.
But there is always a menacing undercurrent and an unbearable
tragedy. It is not comfortable music. Perhaps it is nostalgic
longing for his own country. Some of the melodic fragments suggest
folk songs. The orchestration is remarkably clear and expertly
textured. Beautiful if a little strange! The second movement is
marked allegro moderato often curiously subdued again and marked
by economy but not miserliness. Some outbursts occur which heighten
the tension and the movement is clearly held together by recurring
wisps of melody. The movement ends with an alarm. There follows
an allegro vivace but it is not that vivace. It seems to be a
protest movement and it builds up to a great climax with cymbals,
tam-tam and braying horns and energetic strings. The protest is
a procession which: is coming, is there and disappears into the
distance! The coda is sinister and decidedly creepy!
The finale is slow marked lento, tenuto e maestoso.
The brass chorale is uncanny and uncomfortable as is the rest
of the movement. Don't be put off by the word lento. The music
does not grind but it does not always flow either. There is some
eventual drama which is very impressive with a long high soaring
and beautiful violin line and crashing tam-tam!
This is clearly a very personal symphony and
, while I do not like comparisons, I think I could safely compare
this with Sibelius's Symphony no. 4 in A. You either love it or
hate it. But with Tubin's Eighth there is an extraordinary chilling
The Symphony no. 3 began in 1940 when Estonia
was occupied by the Soviet army. The opening largo has a march
like style and a glorious soaring violin line supported by horns.
The march develops into a very impressive procession. I am sure
Robert Farnon, had this, or something like this in mind, when
he wrote the Colditz March. This largo leads into a rugged fugue
or fugato but, as with Shostakovich, it seems to portray the war
machine, the invaders. The orchestral punctuation is quite staggering
and the Swedish orchestra is very fine and I need not comment
about its conductor. At 5.20 there is a soulful tune reminiscent
perhaps of the folk songs of Hiiumaa. The energico section is
full of high drama with bold rugged music with crashing tamtam
and a vital drive, superbly orchestrated. Shrill flutes, vigorous
strings and sinister percussion all add to the excitement and
it is real excitement. Sometimes the music sounds like a mighty
cathedral organ at full throttle!
Despite the highly scored orchestration all is
clear in this amazing performance. Be warned, hold on to your
hats for the final minute. You will want to jump up and applaud.
It is that good!
The second movement is quick, too. It is headed
molto allegro e temptestoso. Here Järvi exercises great control
in an agitated piece full of nervous and uneasy energy. The tension
becomes too much. We know we are heading for an explosion. We
are fooled once when we think it is about to happen but when it
does it is simply terrifyingly marvellous! The moments of calm
are necessary. There is a violin solo of some pathos, played by
Bernt Lysell, who just avoids being sugary, a lone voice, a voice
in the wilderness lamenting the despicable acts of the Soviets
but who will listen? Who cares but Estonians? This is lovely music,
so human and so real. The agitation returns and approaches with
menace hiding periodically and then re-emerging and with the vicious
tread of despots. The end is a surprise more akin to Mendlessohn's
A Midsummer Night's Dream than anything else.
Largo, maestoso is the heading for the finale
but this is not a slow quiet tedious piece. Often it hits you
between the eyes. Curiously there is a warmth. After the premiere
in Tallinn on 26 February 1943 the conductor Olav Roots spoke
of "the music's despair, obstinacy and hatred which overcame
a race who wanted to regain its lost independence." This finale
highlights confidence and the strength of the Estonia people.
No wonder the Estonian public gave it a prolonged and standing
ovation. There seem to be several marches playing all at once
and a nobilmente devoid of pompous arrogance! The ending is both
colossal and exciting!
The sound engineers have done a great job!
This is a memorable disc.