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Mikel LÜDIG (1880-1958)
Overture-Fantasy No.2 in B minor (1945) [8.17]
Artur LEMBA (1885-1963)
Concerto No.1 in G major for Piano and Orchestra (1905, rev.1910) [21.59]
Midsummer Night (Jaaniöö) Symphonic Scene [6.27]
Overture-Fantasy No.1 in B minor (1906) [6.48]
Artur KAPP (1878-1952)
The Last Confession (1905) (Viimne piht) for Piano and Organ (orch. Charles Coleman for Violin and Strings) [6.08]
Symphony No.4, ‘Youth Symphony’ (Noortesümfoonia) (1948)
Triin Ruubel (violin)
Mikhel Poll (piano)
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. 2017/18, Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn
CHANDOS CHAN20150 [73:23]

Time was, several decades ago, when Neeme Järvi, very much a house artist for Chandos, appeared to be on a mission to record every work composed in the last 150 years. His recordings were always at least reliable, and often fine indeed, and he did so much to widen the record-collector’s understanding of wider repertoire. In his productive eighties, he continues to broaden our horizons, as in this fine new disc.

Relatively few, I suspect, outside Estonia, will be familiar with the output of the three composers represented here, and it is good to make their acquaintance in such committed and idiomatic performances. Historical pressures obviously played their part in the sidelining of Estonia. The period covered by the lives of the composers represented here was traumatic, in ways that affected musical life. In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, there was a rise in nationalistic sentiments, but also debate about whether that nationalism should be above all Estonian, or more closely linked to German culture. From 1889, there was an intensification of Russification by the Imperial authorities. After the 1905 Revolution in Russia, there were calls for greater Estonian freedom, but Estonia achieved final independence only in 1920, after the two-year War of Independence. Following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the USSR occupied Estonia again in 1940, brutally, only to be driven out again in 1941 by the German invasion, before reoccupying from 1944 until 1991. In the meantime, Estonia suffered through the evils of Nazism and subsequent Soviet repressions.

The effect on the music is interesting. In Arthur Kapp’s ‘Youth Symphony’, recorded here, we find a conscious and very attractive mining of Estonian folk tunes in a light-textured and enjoyable symphony. We might have expected something more grandly triumphant, given that it was dedicated to the Leninist Young Communist League (Komsomol) to celebrate its thirtieth anniversary, and it won a second-class Stalin Prize. On this evidence, he is less distinctive a symphonist than Eduard Tubin (1905-1982) who is well-worth exploring in Neeme Järvi’s 2002 set of the complete symphonies (BIS BISCD1402/1404).

Folk-tunes also dominate in Lüdig’s two Overture-Fantasies. He was not a prolific composer, but accomplished – he was rector of the Tallin Higher Music School for some years, and his life was much taken up by administrative duties. These two pieces, composed 39 years apart, demonstrate little stylistic development, but are highly enjoyable, for all that. Indeed, the idiom of all the pieces here is firmly Romantic and quite conservative.

Lemba’s Piano Concerto is considered a highlight of his works. He was both an academic and highly praised performer: his concerto is fundamentally lyrical, in traditional three movement form, but with opportunities for technical display. At its 1908 premiere at St. Petersburg Conservatory, Prokofiev played percussion. It will give much pleasure to listeners, if with little to challenge. Mihkel Poll is undaunted by the demands of the virtuoso sections – elsewhere he captures the poetry of quieter moments.

Anyone a little hesitant about straying outside the well-known should not be concerned with this release: it invites exploration.

Michael Wilkinson

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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