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Tuur: Seventh Symphony, Piano Concerto / P. Jarvi

Release Date: 04/29/2014 
Label:  Ecm   Catalog #: 002027602  
Composer:  Erkki-Sven Tuur
Performer:  Laura Mikkola
Conductor:  Paavo Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

TÜÜR Piano Concerto 1. Symphony No.7, “Pietas” 2 Paavo Järvi, cond; 1 Laura Mikkola (pn); 2 NDR Ch; Frankfurt RSO ECM 4801675 (62:44 Text and Translation)

I reviewed a disc of music by Estonian Erkki-Sven Tüür (b. Read more 1959) in 34:5; the release included his Symphony No. 6. Now ECM continues the series with his Seventh. This disc takes some serious risks and provides deep satisfactions.

Tüür is a mix of seeming contradictions that ultimately make sense. He led a very popular rock band before devoting himself solely to “serious” composition. He is an extremely analytic, “constructionist” composer, yet his music transcends any cerebral roots to take flight in often impassioned rhetoric. The work can seem at times cacophonous and densely chromatic, yet simultaneously one feels a deep tonal substructure, which is all the more radiant when it is periodically revealed on or near the sonic surface. Both of these works partake of these qualities.

The 2006 Piano Concerto is unusual in that, while the piano has a fiercely demanding part, it’s not “virtuosic” in the traditionally showy sense. Rather, it is the spotlight portion of the surging texture of the work. With its rushing arpeggios that mimic the overtone series, it initiates gestures that spread out into the orchestra like ripples in a pool from a tossed stone. Manically repeated high notes ring like upper partials that anchor the bass, a reversal from traditional practice. Though the piece is in three movements, like much of Tüür’s music it flows continuously, without pause. One realizes one is in a new formal field after one is already there. The second movement seems the most obviously driven by overtone-based harmonic relations and progressions. The final movement, with its substantial drum-set part, seems directly related to the composer’s jazz-rock past.

The 2009 Symphony, however, is the major event here. It is an extremely risky work, a “choral” symphony using texts by the Buddha, Ghandi, St. Augustine, Deepak Chopra, Mother Teresa, and Jimi Hendrix. It’s also dedicated to the Dalai Llama. This sort of thing has the inherent risk of collapsing under good intentions and New Age-y delusions, but happily Tüür avoids the trap (at least for me). The choral parts tend to be periodic interjections, more texturally spare, pure, and consonant than the instrumental sections. They are all in English, and direct, unaffected, and sincere. Though nothing is explicitly Buddhist, other than the dedication and texts (and of course that’s a lot), I do hear some subtle evocations of Tibetan Buddhist instrumental music in the long low brass tones (sounding like dungchan horns), an insistent repeating bass drum, and upper woodwinds reminiscent of the keening sounds of Himalayan shawms. The music has another burst of rock energy in its third movement, and then in the fourth and final (almost as long as the other three combined) it opens up. But this doesn’t mean it becomes placid; rather it pushes to an ecstatic intensity that caught me by surprise with its willingness to push the envelope even further. The shock was pleasurable.

I find myself thinking of Carl Nielsen listening to this music, not because it resembles his music on the surface, but because of the wonderfully eclectic, wacky way it takes whatever it feels is needed to make its point, and the almost reckless energy with which it searches for that point. It’s something one finds repeatedly in a Nordic aesthetic. I am also warmed by the fact that so many Scandinavian and Baltic composers haven’t given up on the symphony (I mean the form itself, not the orchestra that is its medium). The idea of a vast architectural edifice that’s highly personal and visionary, yet which aspires simultaneously to project something universal and worthy to its varied listeners, is still a noble enterprise. Tüür is definitely one who wants to advance this cause.

Yes, great performances and sound, but by this point with ECM’s track record, otherwise would be a shock. Definitely Want List material.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 7 by Erkki-Sven Tuur
Conductor:  Paavo Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra
Written: 2009 
Concerto for Piano by Erkki-Sven Tuur
Performer:  Laura Mikkola (Piano)
Conductor:  Paavo Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra
Written: 2006 

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