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Paavo Järvi & Estonian Festival Orchestra - Erkki-Sven Tüür: Mythos - Planet Hugill

The centenary of the Republic of Estonia celebrated in a powerful new symphony

Erkki-Sven Tüür's Symphony No. 9 'Mythos' was commissioned by the Government Office of Estonia to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia, and the work was premiered in Tallinn and Brussels in January 2018 by the Estonian Festival Orchestra conducted by Paavo Järvi.

On this new disc from Alpha Classics, Paavo Järvi conducts the Estonian Festival Orchestra in live recordings of Erkki-Sven Tüür's Symphony No. 9 'Mythos', Incantation of Tempest and Sow the Wind..., and the disc also celebrates the composer's 60th birthday.

Erkki-Sven Tüür is one of the major contemporary Estonian composers; he studied at Tallinn Conservatoire with Jaan Rääts, and with Lepo Sumera. For a period he was part of the progressive rock group, Spe. His output includes nine symphonies and an opera, Wallenberg. We caught music by Tuur and by Raats at the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra's concert at the 2015 Vale of Glamorgan Festival.

Paavo Järvi founded the Estonian Festival Orchestra in 2011 as being resident at the Pärnu Music Festival, bringing together the best of Estonian talent alongside leading musicians from around the world. The orchestra became the first Estonian orchestra to perform at the BBC Proms in 2018 [see my review].

The symphony starts from 'primordial chaos', with Tüür gradually creating a sense of order through an emerging string figure which develops.

But even in gurgling chaos, Tüür's writing is full of colour and texture, and the timbres throughout the work are striking. In his programme note, Tüür is reluctant to give a programmatic description for the piece, yet there is very much a sense of Tüür using the orchestra to create a world, complex, richly textured and dynamic.

The symphony is in a single over-arching movement, with a strong sense of structures developing out of primitive material. Yet throughout, there is an underlying feeling of power surging, complex string textures take place over burgeoning waves of brass sound, and there is a sense of excitement, the stirrings of something being created. As the work progresses, we become aware of Tüür gradually bringing musical fragments into focus to create something new, the dramatic textures coalesce at the end of the work into a striking new sonic world.

The result is a powerfully striking new work, a world away from any sort of nationalistic tub-thumping, and a major addition to the symphonic repertoire. Remarkably the performance here is the premiere, recorded live in January 2018 in Tallinn; the sound is terrific and the recording captures both the excitement of a premiere and the depth and complexity of the writing. You get no sense of the performance being a work in progress, this springs fully-formed and vibrantly exciting from the loud speakers.

Tüür's The Incantation of Tempest is a short work commissioned by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra as part of its Encore! programme creating new music suitable for encores [see my feature article]. It was premiered in 2015 by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jakub Hrusa, and Järvi later started using it as a concert opener. It starts with drama, and throughout Tüür achieves a gradual building of excitement.

Paavo Järvi premiered Sow the Wind... in Paris in 2015 with the Orchestra de Paris. The title comes from a passage in the book of Hosea, 'For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind', and the work is an evocation of the effects of reckless human activity whether it be climate change, mass migration of people or extremist movements.

Here we have complex and dramatic textures, with Tüür again seeming to create a complete world. The work opens with what the composer describes as a 'tidal wave' which washes by, leaving an evocative violin solo and a sense of evolving drama. Again, the musical writing is full of wonderful sonorities and textures.

All three performances are recorded live, the second two works at the Pärnu Music Festival, and throughout the disc you sense the orchestra's responsiveness and its sympathy to the composer's style. You could buy this disc for the outstanding orchestral performances or for the powerful new works, or both; but you should indeed buy it.

Planet Hugill
30 March 2020