Tüür: Symphony No. 7 "Pietas" (CD review)

Also, Piano Concerto. Laura Mikkola, piano; NDR Choir, Hans Hagen, choirmaster; Paavo Jarvi, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. ECM New Series 2341 481 0675.

The German ECM label has been around since 1969 producing mainly jazz titles but also folk and contemporary classical. The folks at ECM have steadfastly denied any such characterizing, however, and prefer to think of themselves as providing music that knows no boundaries. More power to them. This 2014 release of music by Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür (b. 1959) is a good example of their work (and, apparently, Tüür's). The music is clearly classical yet might find a wide audience appeal among jazz and even pop fans.

Although Tüür studied flute and percussion at the Tallinn Music School in the Seventies and composition at the Tallinn Academy of Music, by the early Eighties he was leading the popular rock group In Spe before turning to classical composition. All of it paid off: His country awarded him the Cultural Prize of Estonia in 1991 and 1996, and he has since composed a wide variety of classical pieces including orchestral, concerto, chamber, vocal, organ, piano, and choral works; with even a film score thrown in for good measure.

The program here begins with Tüür's Concerto for piano and orchestra, written in 2006. As with much modern classical music, there seems to be a conscious desire in the concerto's three unmarked movements to eschew most forms of melody or anything like a recognizable tune. I suppose that would sound too "pop" and appeal to too many people. In any case, what we have is mostly a series of sonic effects, with the piano and orchestra in constant communication, a continuous back-and-forth between the soloist and supporting ensemble. The pianist, Laura Mikkola, has a beautiful rapport with the orchestra, and their intertwining of material remains fascinating, even when the music gets a bit too rambunctious for its own good.

Anyway, some of the music sounds eerie, some of it sounds brilliant, and all of it is engaging. The movements flow without intermission into one another, so as listeners we sort of drift along with it, an occasional bend in the road or shift in the tide taking us to a few surprising places. It's actually a fun journey, exceptionally well played; it's just not one I'd care to take too often.

Tüür wrote his Symphony No. 7 "Pietas" for orchestra and mixed chorus in 2009. Tüür dedicated the Seventh Symphony to the Dalai Lama, according to the booklet note "a choral symphony like no other, a work where the orchestra has its own purposes, among which that of framing and supporting the voices is by no means paramount." Then there's talk of the young monk screaming when the other monks took him to the sanctuary. It is there that the symphony begins, a fascinating collection of tone impressions in four movements.

The high percussion instruments play a big part in the proceedings, and they create a highly atmospheric work that is at once mysterious and glowing, with a greater emphasis on melody than we found in the Piano Concerto. Indeed, this stress on various melodies running in and out of the music might almost tempt one to think of the symphony as Romantic, if one didn't fear offending the composer with the use of such a description. In any case, the conductor, chorus (mostly hushed and heavenly), and orchestra seem attuned to the work and pull it off attractively. I enjoyed how the music floated, shifted, and hovered, yet conveyed a feeling of togetherness. The symphony's subtitle is "Pietas," a term suggesting a caring for others, a holiness, making the symphony a kind of prayer and thus returning us to the Dalai Lama theme. Very nice.

In addition to the disc and jewel case, ECM provide a light cardboard slipcover. I've never been too sure of the value of a slipcover for CD's, DVD's, or Blu-ray's--they always seem an extra thing to have to remove before getting to the disc--but they do spruce up the product and make it more appealing to a prospective buyer.

Producers Eckhard Glauche (Piano Concerto) and Hans Bernhard Batzing (Symphony No. 7) together with engineer Thomas Eschler recorded the music in June 2009 at Alte Oper and June 2010 at hr-Sendesaal, Frankfurt, Germany. The piano in the concerto is a little more forward than might be the case live, but it's hardly an issue and certainly sounds clean and clear. The orchestra throughout remains nicely spacious and airy, the definition and detailing solid. There are even instances of almost uncannily realistic depth and dimensionality that add to the realism. Highs are especially natural and extended; lows are adequate to the occasion; and midrange transparency appears nicely judged.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa