Photograph of Erkki-Sven Tüür (© Edition-Peters)
The Love of Three Oranges Suite, Op.33a
Violin Concerto [UK premiere]
Aditus [UK premiere]
Symphony No.9 in E flat, Op.70
Isabelle van Keulen (violin)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paavo Järvi
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 28 May, 2002
Venue: Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Among younger composers who have come to prominence since the fall of the Soviet bloc, Erkki-Sven Tüür (born 1959) is among the most notable – not least for the degree to which he has found ways of balancing the visceral and the cerebral in his musical idiom. The Architectonics series of ensemble works and his three symphonies have already demonstrated this; the Violin Concerto (1999) transfers this approach onto the widest orchestral spectrum.
Although there are three clearly audible movements, the work plays continuously – with the opening movement running for over half of its 30 minutes. The fast arpeggio patterns of the soloist dominate the musical foreground, to the extent that the orchestra is soon drawn into the rhythmic vortex. Yet there is no sense of minimalist-like stasis, as the harmonic logic generated is as fast- moving as it is organic – taking in a generous, though never contrived melodic profile as it evolves. The relative immobility of the second movement is the more telling for arriving at the peak of this process, creating its own level of harmonic tension – which the (too?) brief final movement releases in a burst of rhythmic velocity.
The concerto was played with the focussed and attentive virtuosity which Isabelle van Keulen brings to contemporary repertoire, lyrical and incisive by turns, while Paavo Järvi drew committed playing from the CBSO – bringing out the translucency of Tüür’s intricate orchestral writing. He opened the second half with Aditus (2000), the composer’s tribute to the leading Estonian symphonist (and his one time teacher) Lepo Sumera. Densely worked in its textures, and iridescent in its harmonic colouring, this eight-minute piece would make an ideal concert opener. Both works will feature on an all-Tüür disc these artists will be recording for ECM, and the results should be equally rewarding.
Järvi was Principal Guest Conductor with the CBSO for several years in the 1990s, and the remainder of the concert reflected his mainstream twentieth-century interests. The suite from Prokofiev’s theatrical spectacle, The Love of Three Oranges (1924), was deftly despatched – a shade deadpan, perhaps, in the opening movement, but wonderfully fleet in the ’Scherzo’ (Prokofiev in Rimskian mode) and opening up expressively for the scene with the three princesses.
Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony (1945) concluded the concert. It’s easy to see now how such outwardly urbane and unassuming music can conceal emotions of an altogether darker hue. Järvi obtained a motoric quality from the classical format of the opening ’Allegro’, and drew playing of real pathos from the ’Moderato’ that follows. The effervescent ’Presto’ led seamlessly into the ominous recitation of the ’Largo’, then the ’Allegretto’ close proceeded intently to its manic ’grandstand’ finish.
Excellent woodwind playing all-round, in a work which constantly displays serenade-like affiliations, and an impressive return by a conductor whose duties in Cincinnati and elsewhere make his UK appearances infrequent but welcome occurrences.