Variations for Piano, Clarinet and Chamber Orchestra
Ada Kuuseoks (piano) [Concerto]
Mati Mikalai (piano) & Tarmo Pujusaar (clarinet)
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra
Arvo Volmer [Vesper; Piano Concerto; Bukoolika]
Recorded in 1992, 1995, 2000 and 2002 in Estonia Concert Hall and for Estonia Radio (Eesti Raadio)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: October 2007
CD No: TOCCATA CLASSICS
Duration: 64 minutes
Ester Mägi (born 1922), pianist, composer and with a great interest in her country’s folk-music and heritage, is known as “the First Lady of Estonian Music”. She may, of course, be the only female composer from that country! But, flippancy aside, her music is well worth investigating.
This CD begins with something of a ‘hit’ – Vesper (for string orchestra) that alternates intense music of a religiosity flavour (most of the piece), rhythmic vitality (a few seconds of contrast) and ‘forest murmur’-like evocation (also briefly).
Mägi’s three-movement Piano Concerto (1953) is neo-classical and folksy, tuneful and dancing; it makes an agreeably Romantic impression (the slow movement is especially lovely) in an uncomplicated but never ‘simple’ manner. Had the young Mozart hailed from Estonia, he might have written this! Bukoolika (1983) is more inward, a gentle, rather wistful, occasionally more awe-struck contemplation of nature that is not afraid of metrical diversity or imaginative scoring, sometimes onomatopoeic in effect.
Variations (1972), giving limelight to piano and clarinet, with string-orchestra accompaniment, begins quite sternly in the first instrument and is answered more dreamily by the second. The changes of mood that then inform the 12-minute piece can be volatile, but deep-rooted to the process is the constancy of variation form.
Symphony (1968) is only a minute longer, but is not in one movement; it is in three short ones, the first lasting just over two minutes, a terse affair. However, Mägi’s edgy scoring and pointed rhythms remain within the domain of most listeners – nothing to frighten the horses! However, within the context of her music as experienced on this release, it shows another side to her creativity, the rather austere middle-movement Andante being in-keeping with the realm of this particular piece. But one suspects that Mägi, although not above experimenting, is unwilling to go too far and lose her audience.
In short, there is some attractive music here, skilfully written. Performances are decent enough and certainly committed. Three of them are live – and if the sound is not always the most flattering and editing can be a little rudimentary, a positive impression is given of Mägi’s music, which is quite distinctive within its parameters and backed to the hilt by the annotation, which maybe overstates the case. But by the end of the CD you will have heard unfamiliar music by a composer possibly unknown until now. That’s a fate that Ester Mägi doesn’t deserve.