*Jörg Widmann (clarinet), *Carolin Widmann (violin),
Nordic Symphony Orchestra / Anu Tali.
ECM New Series 2040
It’s striking to think that
Erkki-Sven Tüür has completed six symphonies when his musical voice seems so far removed from the form’s inherent focus on thematic contrast and development.
In his most recent work, the Symphony No. 6, subtitled Strata, the Estonian composer’s singular “timbral” style is once again manifest, with its emphasis on shifting sonorities and alternating textures rather than motivic development.
Tüür is not a symphonist in any traditional sense, but uses the title,
he says, to bolster the genre’s validity as well as provide a reference and entry point for listeners. It also serves as a protest of sorts for what he sees as the “fragmentariness” of much of popular musical culture. (MTV is specifically cited as an example, with its epigrammatic split-second bursts of video and music.)
Strata opens with a massive jarring metallic chord, segueing into dissonant orchestral clouds like an ensemble tuning up. The same stabbing violent chords regularly punctuate the flow, yielding to the crystalline calm of harp descants and rippling piano.
Throughout this vast (32 minute) single movement, Tüür distills a distinctive sense of space and luminosity, with the composer’s organic music inhabiting a similar landscape to that of his Baltic neighbor, the Ukrainian Valentin Silvestrov.
Vertical and layered in form, Strata is austere and powerful music with a clearly Northern sensibility. The textures swirl and surge restlessly, building tension with harsh, emphatic brass chords set against high winds. There is an intense staccato outburst halfway through – with malign, march-like drumming passages – evincing the composer’s rock influences. Near the end, Tüür uses a pastoral motif from an Estonian (Setu) folksong, as the music slows down and coalesces in a shimmering coda and a sense of infinity in its long slow fade to silence.
The coupling, Noësis, is a concerto for clarinet and violin, also cast in a single movement. The Platonic title reflects the idea of two disparate elements coming together to form a new material (also an extra-musical significance for the two married soloists). The two instruments exist in separate spheres initially, with the orchestra as a kind of large echoing chamber between them.
Even with its bravura moments, Noësis is hardly a traditional concerto, cast instead in the composer’s distinctive style of surging orchestral monumentalism as the two soloists’ lines become more elaborate, enmeshed and entwined.
Performances by the Nordic Symphony Orchestra under Anu Tali are bracing, powerful, and very well recorded. Highly recommended.