Tüür: Symphony No. 7 "Pietas" (CD review)
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.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.