Conductor: Tõnu Kaljuste
Orchestra: Tallinn Chamber Orchestra
Performers: Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Years of recordings: 1994, 1995
Label: ECM New Series
SPARS Code: DDD
About the Composer: Estonian progressive rocker Erkki-Sven Tüür (1959-) moved towards classical forms early in his career and has concocted several works, many of which place electronic instruments alongside the standard members of the orchestra.
About the Music: Arvo Pärt is Estonia’s most important classical export, but younger composers such as Tüür prove that there’s certainly more than one beam of talent emanating from the small Baltic state. The composer’s versatility is aptly demonstrated in this collection of pieces from the early 1990s.
Architectonics VI: Scored for flute, clarinet, vibraphone, and strings, the mysterious Architectonics VI clocks in at roughly twelve minutes and bears two distinct halves. The first portion is slightly brooding as the clarinet scurries around in the darkness, only to be seemingly intimidated by the other instruments at certain intervals. Try as it might, the clarinet can’t seem to get a restraining order in place, and once the second half of the piece commences, its reactions become more plangent as the remainder of the ensemble continually reiterates a rather playful yet aggressive passage that serves as the work’s most radiant element but also gives the listener the impression that the other instruments are literally pouncing on the clarinet as a declawed housecat might assail a catnip-stuffed toy mouse.
Passion: Solely for strings, this shorter piece begins somewhat coolly but gradually builds towards a bright exclamation. The triumph is short-lived, though, as a deep-seated sense of adversity quickly takes hold. It’s not long before the strings unceremoniously descend down the chasm of silence.
Illusion: Tüür’s composition notes tersely state that Illusion “deconstructs a baroque motif.” The work would be nestled quite comfortably in a documentary about the global textiles industry. It’s difficult for me not to imagine a legion of stalwart Singers hammering away with the same unrelenting rapidity as the string players do here. The surpise ending will catch many listeners off guard, so be vigilant!
Crystallisatio: Altered fragments of Architectonics VI and Passion appear to have sprung rabbit legs and peregrinated to this ensemble piece which includes electronics and glockenspiel sounds. Tüür is manning the electronics in this recording, and he produces some intriguing effects, the most interesting of which occurs halfway through the work where he effectively distorts the flute and glockenspiel playing and makes them sound like they’ve gingerly circled the drain of a laundry room sink. The percussion and winds are the contrarians in the pack, and like the clarinet in Architectonics VI, they find themselves repeatedly protesting the vigorous charges from the strings.
Requiem: Crystallisatio receives top billing in this collection, which is somewhat curious considering that Requiem is a far more ambitious endeavour. Dedicated to Tüür’s late colleague Peeter Lilje, Requiem is almost a half hour in length, making it the largest work on the disc. The male tenor and bass vocalists are the first on the scene, and they give the text the solemn treatment that you’d expect; they’re eventually accompanied by the female sopranos, which I didn’t find to be quite as captivating (I’m not particularly keen on the soprano voice, let alone vocal music in general!). Regardless, the sparing use of piano throughout the work compliments the singing well. It would have been exciting if electronics were incorporated at one point or another, but it looks like Tüür is aiming to be more of a traditionalist here. I can’t decipher the spoken Latin, but at least the original text is provided in the liner notes along with English, German, and French translations.
ECM New Series has cornered the market on dreary classical album covers. Thankfully, Tüür’s works exhibit significantly more colour.