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.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer
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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer
For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.
For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst
I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.
Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.
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. --John J. Puccio
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