Eduard TUBIN (1905-1982)
Works for violin and piano - vol.1
Capriccio for violin and piano no.1 ETW 50 [3:55]
Sonata for violin and piano no.2 in Phrygian Mode ETW 56 [23:51]
Sonata for solo violin ETW 57 [10:49]
Ballade for violin and piano ETW 52 [9:03]
Dance tunes for violin and piano ETW 53 [17:50]
Sigrid Kuulmann (violin), Marko Martin (piano)
rec. Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, December 2005
For those whose only knowledge of Estonian composers is the music of Arvo Pärt or possibly Erkki-Sven Tüür, Veljo Tormis and Heino Eller this disc will be revelatory. Eduard Tubin is one of the really big names among Estonian composers within the country but I fear little known outside. It will be revelatory not because the others are not first rate composers – they are, but because Tubin is a towering musical figure in Estonia and wrote a large corpus of works that can be put alongside anything written anywhere during the period he wrote them. I came upon his piano music in my local library in the mid-1990s and was mightily impressed and now regret not having sought more of his music out at that time. There are 10 symphonies and a large amount of chamber music of which the music on this disc is part, plus much else.
You get an impression of how good he was right from the very beginning with the brief but highly tuneful Capriccio for violin and piano no.1. This dates from 1937 and incorporates the tarantella rhythm that apparently was often used by him in early works. It is a tour de force for both musicians but especially for the violin and would tax all but the very best violinists; Sigrid Kuulmann is clearly one of those.
Having listened to this disc several times the overriding impression I’ve been left with is that Tubin’s music is highly infectious. It had me singing along both at the time of listening and for long after, some melodies becoming my latest ‘ear worms’. Described by pianist Vardo Rumessen - who has recorded all of Tubin’s piano music on 3 cds BIS 414-416 - in the accompanying booklet the Second Sonata for violin and piano is “...the most remarkable Estonian work in the genre, as well as one of the most technically demanding”. This three movement work was finally completed in January 1949 eight years after Tubin had begun to write it. It is indeed remarkable. The full title includes the words “in Phrygian Mode” referring to a scale used by the ancient Greeks and which, with certain variations, was also used in medieval and modern music and has made its appearance in many works from Orlando di Lassus to Vaughan Williams and Philip Glass, in jazz by Gil Evans in an evocation of Spain in his Solea, and in film music by Howard Shore in the opening sequence of The Fellowship of the Ring from The Lord of the Rings film series. This work can easily be favourably compared to any of the great sonatas for violin and piano written in the 20th century with strong main themes powerfully stated that give equal weight to each instrument and containing some brilliant writing.
Another remarkable and technically demanding composition is the Sonata for solo violin premiered in 1963 in Stockholm where Tubin had lived with his wife as an exile since 1944. Again it is an extremely powerful work that fully explores all the violin’s capabilities in terms of range, texture and timbre and Sigrid Kuulmann rises to the challenge and produces a thoroughly wonderful, convincing and thrilling performance. The Ballade for violin and piano dates from 1939 and was orchestrated the same year becoming Tubin’s first work for violin and orchestra though Vardo Rumessen says he considers the original version for violin and piano the more successful as it emphasises more cogently the “... symphonic effect of the development of the piece, in which every successive phrase and section adds more tension until the music reaches its culmination followed by a solo cadenza”. It is certainly a highly effective and affecting work that contains a lot of fascinating material in its short nine minute length.
The disc ends with a series of four exhilarating tunes based on Estonian folk dances that work brilliantly for these two instruments. Tubin’s father was a fisherman and tailor (!) who must also have had a few animals as he sold a calf in order to buy his son a piano when he realised how interested Eduard was in music. Tubin’s father played trumpet and trombone in the village band and following his eldest brother’s death at 21 the seven year old Eduard inherited a violin and piccolo flute and several scores. He enjoyed playing the flute while herding swine and at school learned to play the balalaika. He was a member of the school’s balalaika band so it’s easy to see where folk tunes came into his life. These charming tunes had me dancing around the kitchen one morning listening on cordless headphones whilst preparing breakfast as they are so infectious reminding me of some of Copland’s Old American Songs and also Bartók’s variations on Romanian themes . Zither player is a particularly successful one that you can’t help but smile at but they are all lovely and proof that folk tunes are a wonderfully rich source of inspiration.
This was a disc to savour and to marvel at and I can’t wait for the rest of this repertoire to appear – I shall be straining to get copies as soon as it does. Both Sigrid Kuulmann and Marko Martin do a superb job in bringing these great works to life in a really thrilling way and are clearly musicians to look out for.
Steve Arloff
A disc to savour and to marvel at.