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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline


Music from Estonia
CD 1 [78:37]
Rudolf TOBIAS (1873-1918)
Julius Caesar Overture (1896) [10:13]
Artur LEMBA (1885-1963)
Symphony in C sharp minor (1908) [40:20]
Heino ELLER (1887-1970)
Videvik (Twilight) Tone Poem  (1917) [6:02]; Koit (Dawn) Tone Poem (1918) [8:12]; Elegia for Harp and Strings (1931) 13:07
CD 2 [71:18] 
Kaljo RAID (1922-2005)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor (1944) [37:41]
Five Pieces
for String Orchestra  (1953) [15:36]
Veljo TORMIS (b. 1930)
Overture No. 2
(1959) [11:11]
Arvo PART (b. 1935)
Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten for String Orchestra and Bell (1977) [6:17]
John Digney (solo oboe) (Dawn); Eluned Pierce (solo harp) (Elegia
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Järvi 
rec. SNO Centre, Glasgow, August 1986 (Koit, Elegia, Symphony No. 1, Five Pieces
Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow; 8 August 1987 (Julius Caesar) and 13 May 1988 (Symphony in C sharp minor), Caird Hall, Dundee, 23-24 August (Videvik, Overture No. 2, Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten)
[78:37 + 71:18]


Experience Classicsonline

Thirty years of Chandos Records seems a good excuse to sift through their back catalogue. It’s all the more needful when the torrent of new releases serves to eclipse issues released before MusicWeb International came into being in its present form in 1998. This single width twin CD release casts light into a corner occupied by two CDs first issued in 1987 and 1989: CHAN 8656 and CHAN 8525. Some mixing and matching has been done to ring the changes on the original couplings.

Tobias’s lusty overture Julius Caesar is Tchaikovskian and should please any listener already appreciative of Hamlet or The Tempest. It lacks the masterly compelling quality of Romeo or Francesca but has sternly romantic attractions. If the Tobias work is the first Estonian symphonic piece then the Lemba is the first Estonian symphony. It is in four big movements. It lacks nationalist character but has sturdy charms of a Brahmsian caste. It may well appeal to you if you appreciated the symphonies of Stanford, Dunhill, Chadwick or Wetz. The writing is skilled and the ideas are affectionately shaped. The whole is performed with exuberance and real fire. Try the turbulent finale – it could hardly blaze with more power. Eller puts in an appearance on both discs. With him a real national identity begins to emerge. However in the case of the sweetly crafted Twilight the language still carries a Tchaikovskian inflection. The result is not far removed from Sibelius’s Valse Triste. Dawn yearns with romantic feeling (1:30) and carries the impress of early Sibelius in its elastic pulses and nature-impressions. It is no coincidence that in 1915 the Estonian Republic was inaugurated. Elegia from fourteen years later is more subtle still – even expressionist. It hums with power from a massed string orchestra but this is contrasted with instrumental dialogues for solo viola, violin and harp. Those wanted a break from Barber’s Adagio and perhaps already sympathetic to Bridge’s Lament and Atterberg’s Third Suite will find this a very congenial discovery. His luminously imagined Five Pieces for strings is in much the same scene and mood but having an even stronger nationalist profile. It’s a yieldingly lovely piece well attuned to the Baltic twilight yet not without a thrumming power and saturated in poetic sensibility. If you enjoy Rakastava and the Elgar, Wiren and Tchaikovsky serenades for strings you will love this. Kaljo Raid, like Eduard Tubin became an exile from Estonia when the Russians invaded in 1944. He lived in Sweden, the United States and finally Canada where between 1954 his avocation was as a Baptist minister. When Eller died in 1970 Raid wrote a Lacrimosa for violin and cello in memory of his teacher. He had been studying with Eller until 1944. The three movement First Symphony dates from that year. It is a fine work rich in nature impressionism and commandingly dramatic writing. The symphonies of E.J. Moeran and George Lloyd (4-7) and the Fourth Symphony of Eduard Tubin can be thought of as brothers under the skin. The finale evinces some Sibelian influence as well as glancing back in the raw fanfares to Tchaikovsky. If you have a taste for the epic mood and the grand manner then this is for you. For more about Raid do have a look at Lance Nixon’s excellent review of the music of Raid and Eller. We know Veljo Tormis from his choral writing which seems woven into the culture and landscape of his homeland. Uno Soomers assures us that his Overture No. 2 – despite its grey title – the best of his few orchestral works. It was written after Tormis had heard the Tubin Fifth Symphony. The overture is volatile, dramatic – almost exhausting but at 3:05 the grand turbulence decays away into an almost untroubled repose – almost because the mood and sound recalls the troubled world of early William Alwyn. Finally Arvo Pärt is represented by his undemonstrative yet deeply affecting Cantus with its tolling bell and minimalist-devotional strings. Few works seem to hold back the passage of time; this is one of that select company.

This is a very satisfying anthology which you could aptly supplement with a much more recent Chandos collection of orchestral music by three members of the Estonian Kapp family and by Arthur Kapp’s Hiob on Eres.

The programme notes are by Robert Layton and Uno Soomere. They complement each other. The essay by Soomere makes me want to hear the symphonies 3 (1966) and 4 (1967) of Anti Marguste (b. 1931) and those by Jan Koha (1929-1993) 1 (1960), Ester Mägi (b. 1922) Symphony (1968), Heino Jürisalu (1930-1991) 1 (1970), Heimar Ilves (1914-2002) 1 (1959), 2 (1964) and 5 (1970-71). Would that we had further volumes to cover this repertoire from Järvi and the SNO (as they then were) in their joint glory days.

Rob Barnett



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