Helena TULVE (b. 1972)
Reyah hadas'ala (2005) [14:10] a
silences/larmes (2006) [11:06] b
L'Equinoxe de l'âme (2008) [11:19] c
Arboles lloran por lluvia (2006) [12:22] d
Extinction des choses vues (2007) [11:51] e
Charles Barbier (counter-tenor)a; Taniel Kirikal (counter-tenor)ad; Vox Clamantisad; Ensemble Hortus Musicusa; Jaan-Eik Tulveacd; Arianna Savall (soprano)bcd; Marco Ambrosini (nyckelharpa)d; NYYD Quartetc; Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Olari Eltsd
rec. St. Nicholas Church, Tallinn, October 2009 (Reyah hadas'ala); Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn, May 2010 (Extinction des choses vues) and Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, Tallinn, August and September 2001 (other works)
Texts and translation included
ECM NEW SERIES 2243 [61:13]

Helena Tulve's music was known to me by just one short piece Traces (2001) so I welcomed the opportunity to hear more. Incidentally this turned out to be the second ECM disc entirely devoted to her music and I realised that I still have to listen to the earlier one.
Things being what they are, this CD provides a fair portrait in that these five pieces are clearly different in character while obviously from the same pen and mind. This says much for Helena Tulve's musical personality. All five were composed within a fairly short time-span from 2005 to 2008.
Reyah hadas'ala is a setting for voices and early music consort of a text by Shalom Shabazi - a Yemenite poet, rabbi and mystic in the 17th century. I derived this information from the often detailed though not always useful insert notes by Kristina Kõrver. Tulve is not the only Estonian composer to have composed for Ensemble Hortus Musicus. Among the others are Lepo Sumera, Erkki-Sven Tüür and Galina Grigorjeva whose Con misterio (2001) is particularly beautiful. The short text is repeated several times in different guises although Gregorian chant is a prominent characteristic of the music that definitely does not aim at imitating the oriental. The result is beautiful and quite moving and I have returned to this piece repeatedly.
The next work silences/larmes is a setting of five very short texts by Mother Immaculata Astré, the current Abbess of Le Pesquié in France. The musical setting for soprano, oboe, glasses and wind chimes (the latter played by the composer) neatly reflects the utter brevity of the texts. However, Tulve's imagination has it that these epigrammatic settings are packed with invention and suggest much in spite, or because, of their concision. The fourth of these haiku is whispered just at the verge of inaudibility - what the notes describe as “the quiet climax”. Emphasis is put on the purity of the sung lines and Arianna Savall's delivery is just marvellous, her voice sometimes suggesting some mysterious instrument – for example, the ondes Martenot. She deploys supple, wide-leaping melodic lines.
L'Equinoxe de l'âme for soprano, triple harp and string quartet is different again although it shares some features with silences/larmes, particularly so in the vocal part. The source is a text by a 12th century Sufi mystic but heard here in a French translation. The text is about the Simurgh, a mythical bird who feeds on fire and whose nest is on the borderline between the visible and invisible worlds. Savall who also plays the triple harp's part is again superb in this very fine work that also repays repeated hearings. It actually needs them because some parts of this setting are not as straightforward as one might think.
Arboles lloran por lluvia (“Trees cry for rain”) which gives this release its title is a setting for soprano, nyckelharpa and voices of a traditional poetic text of Sephardic Jews. Although the opening and the coda suggest drops of rain, the main body is a love song: “Trees cry for rain/and so the mountains for air./And so my eyes cry/for you, my beloved”. This beautiful setting is probably the most straightforward work in this release, which does not mean that it is easy to sing but the way it is done is immediately perceived for what it is: a deeply moving love-song. Now, I hear someone ask : what's a nyckelharpa? I had to check this myself and it turns out that it is a Scandinavian fiddle. This may be the only drawback concerning this beautiful work in that one is not likely to find a nyckelharpa player everywhere in the world. The part may probably be substituted by a viola which – to me at least – sounds more or less the same.
I have always been and still am taken aback by the variety of sources often quoted by contemporary composers when commenting on their music or their works. Helena Tulve mentions that the musical ideas of Extinction des choses vues are derived from a text by the Jesuit thinker Michel de Certeau. Well, maybe, maybe not. I am not quite sure how far this helps in getting any further insight into a splendid orchestral work whose structure is fairly clear. The music opens in complete ambiguity and progressively settles, then gains further momentum by adding layer upon layer until reaching an almost chaotic climax. This is followed by an eerie, static episode providing a completely inconclusive close: the extinction of things seen/heard? This is yet another very fine work that shows that Tulve has a fine ear for telling instrumental and orchestral gestures.
I have listened repeatedly to this superb release for the expressive strength of the music, the excellent performances apparently all in the composer's presence and the very fine recording of the kind one has come to expect from ECM. The often detailed insert notes deserve to be mentioned too although – as is often the case with this label – they tend to be a bit too high flown while omitting basic information that the average music-lover would like to have: composition dates and information on some unusual instruments that may be at play in the music.
Make no mistake: this is one of the finest discs to have come my way recently.

Hubert Culot


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