Notes and Editorial Reviews
Erkki-Sven Tüür’s ongoing cycle of interesting symphonies (in 2017 he arrived at No. 9) makes him–by quality more significantly than quantity–the premiere symphonist of our time. Always good for the inclusion of seemingly eclectic instruments (electric guitar, accordion, big band, percussion, tape, synthesizer) in his orchestral works, he expands the tonal palette much the same way Gustav Mahler did when he threw the mandolin or guitar or castanets or xylophones or a hammer into his symphonies, all before perfectly unsuspecting audiences. (Happily, this is much easier on the ears than when other composers stick with the traditional instrumental apparatus only to then make these instruments generate every sound except those they
were meant to produce in the first place.)
In this Fifth symphony, premiered in 2005 at the Stuttgart Eclat New Music Festival, the electric guitar has some particularly lyrical quasi-cadenzas in the second movement. The fact that we might find it curious is only a consequence of our aural associations with and expectations of an electric guitar. But all the rest of the symphony is pretty classical, down to the four movements and their structure, which goes to show that there’s still much left in the old form and “old”–i.e., tonal–modes, if only a composer can muster sufficient imagination.
Tüür does. In fact his works are bursting with originality and fantasy, freed of all academism and perceived “ought-to’s”. Not all of them are as successful as this Fifth (or the Seventh) symphony, perhaps, but are always full throttle and never display originality for its own sake. The groove of the third movement is befitting any classical Scherzo; the Big Band gets its moment in the spotlight, backed by a percussive, happy but firmly embedded, organic beat (sound clip)–not as artificially superimposed and faddish as large percussion sections can sound in too many contemporary works (Higdon, Sierra, Widmann, Golijov, et al.).
It’s possible that connoisseurs of conventional symphonies wrinkle their brows in disapproval of these allegedly foreign ingredients. This brings to mind a beverage-related spoonerism of composer and linguistic genius Franz Mittler: “I would rather have a boot in my rear/Than a root in my beer.” But Tüür’s symphonies are not symphonies in name only; they are decidedly real beer–just a modern variant of the classic original. Maybe something Dogfish Head Brewery would concoct.
Rounding out a fabulous disc is the accordion concerto Prophecy, a substantial work in four continuous movements that often ends up in a swarm of sound with intermittent, hallmark Tüür moments (dry timpani before a canvas of dark quiet, for example). In it, the accordion is less folksy than it is grave; the whole thing more redolent of an organ concerto than a polka.
– ClassicsToday (Jens F. Laurson) Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 5 by Erkki-Sven Tüür
Nguyen Le (Electric Guitar)
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra,
UMO Big Band
Prophecy by Erkki-Sven Tüür
Mika Vayrynen (Accordion)
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
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