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Erkki-Sven TÜÜR (b. 1959)
Symphony No. 9 “Mythos” (2017/18) [34:11]
Incantation of Tempest (2015) [4:17]
Sow the Wind… (2015) [21:19]
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Estonian Festival Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
rec. 2018/19, Pärnu Concert Hall, Estonia
ALPHA CLASSICS 595 [60:06]

Erkki-Sven Tüür’s Ninth Symphony “Mythos” was composed as part of the 100th anniversary celebrations for the Republic of Estonia in 2018, and Tüür’s own booklet notes serve as the best introduction to the work: “The processes that lead to a surge of national consciousness and independence always have deep roots in mythological material, and these underlying layers are what I wished to hint at in my composition. Hence the title.” Origin myths and primordial chaos play their part in a powerful but also enigmatic opening, but Tüür is reluctant to ascribe too much in the way of descriptions of this kind, denying that the work is in any way programmatic.

For Tüür, “composing a symphony means creating a complex and complete world in all its diversity”, and you won’t find too many connections in this single-movement piece with ‘classical’ symphonies of the past. Tüür’s idiom is one that respects convention but stretches its boundaries, playing with the vast possibilities in a large orchestra but for instance also using microtonality on occasion to heighten certain effects. Tonality is by no means absent but there is an ever-present addition of chromatic colours, the harmonic progressions of which deliver shifting vistas and soundscapes rather than cadential phrasing. Striking sonorities and drama in action and reaction take us on a journey through uneasy but by no means ugly spaces. The density of events in this traversal grows as the symphony progresses, musical elements piling on top of each other in a counterpoint that retains a cloud-like identity while moving through a musical storm that relents without offering repose. The listener is an ‘observer’ whose perception of this symphonic world is its reflection, and “the observer’s position is revealed during the final minutes of the composition, after the increasingly fragmentary and intensifying development leads to a culmination.” This culmination is in some ways a return to the enigma of the opening, but in the end takes on an aspect of beauty; perhaps that of a tentatively verdant garden, but one that is not without its atmosphere of menace from outside forces.

The compact Incantation of Tempest was originally written to function as an encore, but ultimately became used as an overture. This is a piece with the feel of a symphonic movement, but one which has a cinematic feel: not in the usual Hollywood sense, but certainly with an ‘action sequence’ sense of visual motion and suspense.

Sow the Wind… takes its title from that famous Biblical phrase, “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” This is a direct reference to “reckless human activity” of many kinds, the consequences of which are being increasingly felt by today’s newer generations. As with Mythos there is no claim for this as a narrative reflection of concrete events, but there are ‘whirlwind’ moments that relate to the text. The form as a whole has a complex musical architecture that ultimately results in the orchestra growing into a giant machine that “seems to smash against an invisible wall and vanish” by way of conclusion. The eventful traversal towards that final smash generates passages of considerable eloquence, and this is by no means a ‘crash-bang-wallop’ kind of work even with the rock/jazz drums towards the end. All of these pieces demand focus and attention from the listener, but always reward engagement with music of substance and stirring content.

Erkki-Sven Tüür’s work can be found on the Ondine, ECM, Virgin Classics and other labels, and this release from Alpha-Classics is a significant addition to his discography. This recording marks a 25th anniversary in Paavo Järvi and Tüür’s ongoing creative collaboration, and the Estonian Festival Orchestra plays out of its skin – the only thing really betraying some of these performances as live concerts, aside from their exciting atmosphere, being one or two stray but perfectly timed coughs. The recorded sound is full and detailed, and presentation is good, with nice photos and booklet texts in English, German, French and Estonian.

Dominy Clements

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