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Estonian Composers (II)
Helena TULVE (b. 1972)

Mirjam TALLY (b. 1976)

Tōnu KŌRVITS (b. 1969)

Timo STEINER (b. 1976)

Descendants of Caind
Tōnis KAUMANN (b. 1971)

Long Playe
Märt-Matis LILL (b. 1975)

Le Rite de Passage (1999)f
Mart SIIMER (b. 1967)

Water of Lifeg
Ardo-Ran Varres (narrator)b; Iris Oja (soprano)b; Alar Pintsaar (baritone)b; Vambola Krigul (percussion)b; Külli Möls (accordion)b; Robert Jürjendal (electric guitar)b; Virgo Veldi (saxophone)c; Madis Metsamart (percussion)c; The Bowed Piano Ensembled; Teet Järvi (cello)g; Monika Mattiesen (flute)g; NYYD Ensemble, Olari Elts (conductor)aef
Recorded: Estonian Radio, 1998 (Siimer), 1999 (Lill), 2000 (Kōrvits) and 2001


All the composers featured in this release produced by the Estonian Radio are still in their thirties and forties. Most pieces here are presumably fairly recent, so that this disc provides for a fair opportunity to get some idea of what Estonian music after Pärt, Sumera and Tüür may be like. Judging from what is on display here, one may safely say that these composers have hugely varied concerns, which thus result in a quite contrasted musical response.

Helena Tulve studied with Erkki-Sven Tüür in Tallinn and with Jacques Charpentier at the Paris Conservatory. She also worked at IRCAM. Traces is a short piece for small mixed ensemble displaying vivid aural imagination and a good deal of energy, alternating hectic and calmer episodes. Mirjam Tally is a pupil of the late Lepo Sumera. Her Swinburne (narrator, soprano, baritone, accordion, bass guitar and percussion) is, so we are told, based on the eponymous novel by Hasso Krull. This is theatre-music, with many arresting sound textures, including some electronically processed sounds and a couple of pastiche quotes from Bach’s St Matthew Passion. Even with the help of an English translation of Krull’s poem, it is not always easy to understand what is going on. The final section sounds to me like an impassioned love song, almost verging on hysteria. The music is inventive and imaginative. In total contrast to Tally’s sometimes riotous score, Kōrvits’ Stream for alto saxophone and vibraphone is a beautifully wrought, elegantly written elegy, very moving in its restraint and apparent straightforwardness. The saxophone part is far from easy, but nevertheless calls for a good deal of musicality rather than mere virtuosity.

One of the longest works here is Steiner’s Descendants of Cain, a longish piece for bowed piano ensemble, which – if I understand correctly what the notes tell us about it – actually consists of a concert grand of which the lid has been removed and around which a number of players actively gather producing sounds inside the piano by using a variety of bows. It must be rather spectacular to watch a performance of this piece. The composer also added a part for speaking voice(s) as well as some percussion (a wooden spoon hitting the bass strings of the piano). The whole piece sounds like a ritual, in an idiom that might be described as minimalist, but conjuring many arresting sonorities, sometimes making the piano sound like a huge zither. Sometimes, and often unexpectedly, disarmingly simple, "traditional" piano playing emerges. The whole thing is rather intriguing and can be quite attractive. However, I do not know whether the ‘medium’ as such is entirely viable (i.e. musically) on its own. I can however imagine using some of it to enlarge the timbral palette of an orchestra or an ensemble.

Kaumann, too, is a former pupil of Jaan Rääts, as are Kōrvits and Steiner; but his music (at least, as heard in this piece) is quite different again. Long Play is a jazzy Big Band piece scored for winds, synthesiser, percussion and double bass. It is a very engaging piece of the kind Mark-Anthony Turnage might have written, when in his overtly jazzy mood (e.g. Scorched).

Lill is another pupil of Sumera. He also studied with Eino Tamberg as well as with Veli-Matti Puumala at the Sibelius Academy. He too attended some IRCAM courses in Paris. Le Rite de Passage is scored for ensemble and kannel, the latter being a folk zither, which the composer chose not so much for its ethnic association, but rather for its delicate sound. Lill also admits some affinities to Far Eastern court rituals. Anyway, this often delicately scored piece unfolds as a slow journey through the ages of Man, from birth to death, in a restrained, almost reticent manner. As far as I am concerned, this is one of the finest pieces in this disc, and I would definitely like to hear more of Lill’s music.

Mart Siimer is yet another Tamberg pupil, but he also studied in the States with Christopher Rouse, Augusta Read Thomas and James Willey. His Water of Life for flute and cello is a beautiful, warmly lyrical, at times impassioned, piece of music of great communicative strength.

These recordings made by the Estonian Radio are quite satisfying, and one may assume that the performances bear the composers’ approval. They all sounded to me well prepared, neatly played and generously committed. This is a very useful and often enjoyable cross-section of recent works by Estonian composers of the younger generations, which also partly answers the question "Well, Pärt, Sumera, Rääts, Tüür, what next?".

Hubert Culot

Review of Volume 1


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