ERKKI-SVEN TÜÜR: Symphony No. 7 ‘Pietas’; Piano Concerto – Frankfurt Radio Sym./NDR Choir/Laura Mikkola, p./Paavo Järvi – ECM New Series

 ERKKI-SVEN TÜÜR: Symphony No. 7 ‘Pietas’; Piano Concerto – Frankfurt Radio Sym./NDR Choir/Laura Mikkola, p./Paavo Järvi – ECM New Series 2341 4810675, 62:30,(4/29/14), [Distr. by Universal] ***:

I was not familiar with the Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür until this recording. A little bit of research tells us he is a very interesting person. He studied flute and percussion at the Tallinn Music School from 1976 to 1980 and composition with Jaan Rääts at the Tallinn Academy of Music and privately with Lepo Sumera from 1980 to 1984. In the late seventies and early eighties he headed the rock group “In Spe”, which was very popular throughout Estonia. He had left the group to study composition and many of his works have found their way to western audiences. Both of the works on this disc are bold and adventuresome but also a bit different. The Piano Concerto was written in 2006 and is characterized by a large, almost “theatrical” approach to sound and harmony. The piano has some big exposed moments but is, in many ways, part of the texture. The movements are populated by a wide range of instruments in unusual combinations including some exotic percussion and low brass soli. I was especially taken by the very atmospheric closing movement (Tüür uses no traditional Italian style descriptors or movement titles of any sort) There are touches of jazz in the orchestration and the work concludes in what the composer describes as “incandescence.”   I found the work abstract but rather attention getting! Tüür’s Symphony No. 7 is subtitled ‘Pietas’ in reference to both of the Latin roots for “pity” and “piety.” The implied prayerful, serious nature is also due to the fact that Tüür intended this piece as a tribute or devotional work to the Buddha; and is dedicated to the Dalai Lama.  There is the substantial presence of choir in this work which reflects the devotional chanting of Buddhist monks and any other use of singing as a form of prayer. ECM did do a nice job providing the texts which actually are comprised of eleven very short quotations; aphorisms of sorts, from such sources as Siddhartha Gautama, Gandhi, St. Augustine, Mother Teresa, Deepak Chopra and……. Jimi Hendrix!   (A philosopher or religious cleric of almost any sort may question the use of a living pop philosopher like Chopra or the rock icon Hendrix. Tüür knows, however, that these are people who have been influenced by spiritualism and who have, to some extent, influenced himself.) The music is interesting and not at all the ethereal and reverential-sounding blend of voices and orchestra that this subject might suggest. It is bold, declamatory and occasionally strident. Tüür says that the work is written in four “waves” separated by the choral sections – which are generally restful, tonal and somewhat what we “expect.”  What is most interesting is the composer acknowledges that Buddhist monks taught him that their religion and their worship is built on opposites: light and dark; peace and strife; prayer and scream. In Buddhist belief systems, a cause for scream is a cause for prayer. In this piece, the sometimes violence of the orchestration gives way to the reassurance of the words sung by the choir. The texts themselves are actually very reassuring; very placid.  It is unclear to me what the intent of Tüür’s wild orchestrations is against the very tranquil texts but I think the Symphony is mostly successful on its sound and impact, regardless of any context. These works are very interesting but a little bit of a tough listening experience. I would like to hear more of Tüür’s music though, as this did peak my interest.

—Daniel Coombs

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