Tubin kratt 1006

Eduard Tubin (1905-1982)
Suite from the ballet Kratt (1943-1961)
Music for Strings (1962)
Graźyna Bacewicz (1909-1969)
Concerto for Strings (1950)
Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994)
Musique Funébre (1958)
Estonian Festival Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
rec July, 2021, Pärnu Concert Hall, Estonia
Alpha Classics 1006 [70]

The most significant works in this release of Polish and Estonian music are the two by one of Estonia’s finest composers, Eduard Tubin. Many years ago, I came across some old Melodiya LPs of some of his orchestral music. The clarity of expression mixed with richly ornamented harmonies made me wonder why his music was relatively unknown. Tubin’s music has become better known mostly through Neeme Järvi – a tremendous ambassador for Estonian music. That mantle has now passed to his son Paavo with this new CD.

The national Estonian composing movement began in St Petersburg school under Rimsky Korsakov, where Rudolf Tobias, Artur Kapp, Cyrillus Kreek, Mart Saar and Heino Eller studied and hence launched a composing tradition based on Estonian folk song with a particular affinity with the rich Estonian choral tradition. Tubin came from a musical family; his father sold a cow to provide a piano to help Eduard to develop his musical gifts. He studied with the important composer Heino Eller in Tartu’s Music School, and when the country became independent in 1920, worked as a music teacher and began composing. Eller was a huge influence on Tubin, who wrote of his teacher, ‘you gave me a lesson of the strength of inner force in music and showed me the path along which one must walk in order to find the force and to know how to use it.’

His career was advanced by his teaching and conducting in the Vanemuine theatre in Tartu, where he conducted operas and operettas. He often directed choral concerts and several of his pieces are for choir. In the 1930s, he travelled around Europe and met Kodály, who encouraged him to write on folk themes, so Tubin collected folk songs on several of the country’s islands in the Baltic Sea, some of which he arranged for his ballet Kratt.

Tubin was motivated by Erika Saarik, his second wife, who was a dancer, to write Kratt (The Goblin; 1938-39) the first ballet by an Estonian composer; she wrote the libretto for it and it is based on thirty folk songs. He wrote a second version in 1941-43, when it premiered in Tartu, with Tubin conducting. It is considered today to be Estonia’s national ballet. It was performed again in Tallinn in 1944, but during its sixth performance the theatre was shelled and the dancers escaped in their costumes, creating a disturbing sight on the cobbled streets as one of them was dressed as the devil. Sadly, the score was destroyed along with the theatre, but fifteen years later Tubin was commissioned by the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra to patched together from the surviving parts this orchestral suite and two years after the composer’s death the ballet was revived in Stockholm.

The score of Kratt is lively, and Tubin reveals himself as a fine composer with marvellous instrumental writing and clearly expressed ideas. The three movements have beautifully orchestrated dances ranging from the Dance of the Goblin, to the Peasant Waltz, the Dance of the Exorcists to Dances of the Northern Lights. Each is very colourful – not unlike his symphonies written before he left Estonia for Sweden in 1944. The composer claimed that he was mostly influenced by Stravinsky and Bartók, but I am reminded of Shostakovich’s light music – and certainly the ballet is an attractive introduction to Tubin’s orchestral music. Of his ten completed symphonies, five were composed in Sweden; they represent his finest work, in which he embraced neo-classicism and new trends in music, and developed a new professionalism with clearly expressed ideas and excellent orchestration.

The second work by Tubin was premiered in Switzerland and shows his later style that embraces polyphony and elements of neo-classicism. Of the three movements, the first is a passacaglia, which returns in the third movement with the second movement’s two contrasting themes and a fugato. These two pieces are a fine introduction to Estonia’s best symphonist. Paavo Jarvi’s musicians give superb performances as if they really believe in this music.

If readers are unfamiliar with Tubin, and if one likes this music, then the ten completed symphonies will be even more rewarding as they embrace diverse elements of modernism, late Romanticism and neo-classicism imbued with rich influences of Estonian folklore. Thankfully, there are two complete collections of his symphonies available, and much of Tubin’s creativity is available on BIS which include concertos for double bass, and another for balalaika and orchestra.

Of the other works on this CD, Bacewicz is becoming popular both on CD and in concert, and her Concerto for String Orchestra is among her finest pieces. After the opening neo-classical Allegro, the Andante has an intimate in lullaby at its core, and the final movement – Vivo is rhythmically exciting, yet hinting of the period when it was written. The work resulted in the composer being awarded a national prize in 1950.

In Musique Funèbre, Lutosławski pays homage to Bartók and marks the tenth anniversary of his death. It is influenced by the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, and earned the Polish composer the first prize at UNESCO in Paris in 1959. Unlike many of his works of the time, its temperament is mesmerising and intensely emotional. Elements of his creativity here link him with the avant-garde of the post-war period along with Messiaen, Cage and Boulez.

One can clearly hear in these state-of-the-art recordings the virtuosity of the brilliant ensemble assembled by Paavo Jarvi to perform these powerfully accomplished readings; better accounts could not be imagined. This release takes the form of a gatefold cardboard case with the CD and booklet tucked inside its pockets. The 28-page notes on the music by Nele-Eva Steinfeld are very informative and supplemented by biographies of Paavo Jarvi and his Estonia Festival Orchestra in English, French, German and Estonian texts, and black and white photos on the cover. This release is recommended to all those interested in the less well-known paths of 20th century music.

Gregor Tassie

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