Friday 24 October 2014

Erkki-Sven Tüür’s Symphony No.5 for Big Band, Electric Guitar and Symphony Orchestra is a tremendous achievement, pulling so many sounds together seamlessly on a new release from Ondine

Estonian composer, Erkki-Sven Tüür (b.1959) studied flute and percussion at the Tallinn Music School and composition with Jaan Rääts at the Tallinn Academy of Music as well as privately with Lepo Sumera. From 1979 to 1984 he headed the rock group In Spe, later leaving to concentrate on composition. Tüür’s compositions to date include an opera, Wallenberg, Opera (2001); choral and vocal works; eight symphonies; a number of concertos; chamber music and works for organ and piano.

In 2011, Ondine released a recording of Tüür’s choral works, Awakening (Ärkamine) (2011) and The Wanderer’s Evening Song (Rändaja õhtulaul) (2001) and his Insula deserta for string orchestra (1989) with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Sinfonietta Riga conducted by Daniel Reuss. (ODE 1183-2), winning a Gramophone 'Editor's Choice'

Now from Ondine comes a release of Tüür’s large scale Symphony No.5 for Big Band, Electric Guitar and Symphony Orchestra (2004) coupled with his Prophecy for Accordion and Orchestra (2007). Here the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra  join with the Umo Jazz Orchestra conducted by Olari Elts together with electric guitarist, Nguyên Lê (Symphony No.5) and accordionist, Mika Väyrynen (Prophecy).

ODE 1234-2

Tüür’s Symphony No.5 was premiered by the SWR Big Band, SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Olari Elts with Martin Scales (guitar), on 1st February 2005 at the Stuttgart Theaterhaus as part of the Eclat New Music Festival who commissioned the work.

It is in four movements, the first of which opens with a long held note from the brass with wavering decorations. The band is soon joined by the symphony orchestra in a melodious descending motif. The held note is repeated and, again, the orchestra joins as a trumpet brings staccato notes, slowly becoming wilder as the brass descend to deep orchestral phrases. Soon the band returns, pointed up by drums before the band and orchestra alternate with staccato outbursts from the band.

There are fine textures and swirls of orchestral sound punctuated by brass interventions. The way Tüür dovetails the band with the orchestra seems so natural. There are lovely brass textures and motifs including a saxophone. Later Nguyên Lê’s electric guitar can be heard providing its distinctive sound to the florid, swirling textures of the band and orchestra. Throughout there are bursts of energy that seem incapable of being restrained before we go straight into the Movement II.

The electric guitar enters with a full throated sound though, for all its rock music associations, within the context of this work, it sounds strangely symphonic and, often, rather Eastern in style whilst underlaid with a consistent layer of orchestral sound. Nguyên Lê certainly makes a terrific presence as he improvises this section. Soon the music quietens to hushed orchestral strings to which woodwind and delicate percussion join. Here we are back in the purely symphonic classical world where little surges of music alternate with a hushed flowing theme. The music becomes slower yet louder as the forward swirling flow increases, high on the strings with continuous little bursts of woodwind and brass, becoming increasingly tense. Eventually the music slows and falls to a deep string resonance followed by hushed murmuring strings. A flute enters as do other woodwind in a drooping motif beautifully realised, a beautiful little moment as the music fades quietly into Movement III.

In the opening the band quietly but rhythmically enter before rising up in a dance passage complete with plucked jazz style double bass. The music leads ahead with jazz trumpet against the rhythmic theme from the band, complete with drum kit, bass and jazzy accompaniment. This music really swings with a brief drum solo before the symphony orchestra can be heard joining with the band that continues punctuating the orchestra as the music moves quickly forward. There is an insistently beaten out motif from the band with raucous saxophone joined by the electric guitar in a loud frenetic, absolutely terrific section. Tüür brilliantly brings all these elements together. Somehow it just works.

The music swirls around until moving into Movement IV where the music  drops away to woodwind arabesques that slowly descend with the orchestra playing a little woodwind theme with upward flourishes. Percussion join, adding a rhythmic touch as sections of the band take over in a slightly syncopated motif. The orchestral strings join in the fun; rising in dynamics as the electric guitar joins, bringing a tremendous beat and a pretty dynamic overall sound from orchestra, band, percussion and electric guitar with an insistent forward motion sweeping all aside. Slowly the guitarist improvises some terrific passages over the violent accompaniment, rising ever more in volume and complexity until a peak is reached and the music slowly fades away. From the hush arises strange string sounds and a woodwind theme as the music gently and mysteriously moves forward to the hushed coda.

This symphony is a tremendous achievement pulling all these sounds together seamlessly.

Prophecy for Accordion and Orchestra (2007) was commissioned by theTurku Philharmonic Orchestra and Orchestre de Bretagne and premiered on 11th October 2007at the Turku Concert Hall, Finland by Mika Väyrynen (accordion) with the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Olari Elts

Prophecy opens with a sudden chord from the accordion of Mika Väyrynen over a string base that is held, slowly rising louder. When the Väyrynen re-enters it is over a flute motif to which the accordion playfully joins in some beautifully written music. The way the accordion is allowed to blend its textures with strings and woodwind is so subtle that occasionally one has to listen attentively to hear where the accordion joins and leaves the orchestral textures. The music has a rising and falling, surging quality, full of little outbursts with lots of bubbling little phrases reflected by the accordion. Later the music becomes more rhythmic as the accordion pushes ahead with the theme, the accordion and orchestra becoming more dynamic with an offset rhythm.

There are some terrific textures and colours and, indeed, rhythms as the music progresses. Eventually the music opens out in a quieter passage where the accordion plays a playful and gentle little theme over the hushed orchestra before arriving at a short cadenza. Little motifs from individual orchestral instruments follow as the music descends into the lowest register for the accordion where, ruminating against woodwind swirls, it slowly rises, the accordion theme becoming ever more florid. The music falls to a hush with a rhythmic beat for percussion before the accordion takes up a faster beat, rising with drums as the tempo continues to increase with the return of the syncopated rhythm. The accordion plays a fast and frantic theme as the music rushes to the dynamic end.

This is a tremendous performance of an extremely effective work for accordion and orchestra.

Erkki-Sven Tüür is such a technically assured composer with an ear for combining subtle textures as well as the big gesture. The performances could not be bettered and they receive an excellent recording that coped perfectly with all the combined sounds thrown at it.

The booklet notes take the form of a discussion between the composer and conductor.

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