ERKKI-SVEN TÜÜR: Symphony No. 5 for Big Band, Electric Guitar and Symphony Orchestra; Prophecy for Accordion and Orchestra – Helsinki Philharmonic Orch./Umo Jazz Orch./Nguyen Le, elec. guitar/Mika Väyrynen, accordion/Olari Elts – Ondine ODE 1234-2, 59:36, (10/14/14), [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
First, how can you not wonder what a symphony for big band, electric guitar and orchestra sounds like; let alone an accordion concerto?
I have heard a bit of the music of Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür before, like his Symphony No.7. I think part of the very eclectic nature of his music is due to the fact that in the early eighties he headed the rock group “In Spe”, which was very popular throughout Estonia.
I must say the Symphony No.5 is truly attention-getting, with an ominous, rather subdued beginning that gives way to some jazz band-like punctuations and what the composer describes as “wavelike currents.” There are little moments in each movement that sound genuinely “big band” and defy inclusion into the work’s actual format, with brass punches and saxophones swirling up and down. I was also very taken back, in a good way, by the sultry, middle-eastern, dense sound of the second movement with its impressive “throwback” guitar cadenza. Honestly, this might not sound at all like a “symphony” but it certainly does capture your attention.
The payoff is really the fourth movement which Tűűr refers to – in a very humorous, good-natured way – as “fans of prog rock rejoice…. the Ultimate Big Bang.” There are moments of guitar improvisation throughout the whole that are quite impressive and kudos to Nguyen Le for his skills!
Prophecy is really a single movement concerto for accordion and orchestra and contains many of the composer’s swirling, moody colors. There are three movements interconnected each of which reflect, according to the booklet notes and comments from Tűűr on forms of “premonitions” – hence the composer’s choice of the title, Prophecy. What intrigued me about this piece is the use of the orchestra to become an extension of the accordion line in several sections and vice versa; there is some very skilled blending of tone color here. The composer also comments on the societal tradition of ‘prophets’ and keepers of an indigenous culture, for example. Tűűr notes that such people were “respected, disdained, hazardous and kind of mad…” To the composer, this piece is trying to reflect the moods of these cultural traditions. For me, I am not sure I completely get that analogy but Prophecy is a very entertaining piece.
Erkki-Sven Tüür is absolutely an unusual, eclectic, somewhat bizarre and – maybe – visionary composer. I do not think (in fact, I am sure…) that his music would appeal to just about any listener. However, if you just tune into the sounds and not worry too much about what it means or why it was written thusly I think you would be engrossed. I know I found the Symphony No.5 especially fun to listen to.
My opinion of Tüür ‘s music is better now even than when I first heard it and I am anxious to hear more from this one-of-a-kind artist!