TÜÜR Symphony No 7. Piano Concerto
Of all symphonists active in this century, few have impressed me as strongly as the Estonian Erkki-Sven Tüür. I say that without having yet encountered his Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Symphonies. But No 7 (2009) certainly lives up to the standards of No 4 (with its concertante percussion part for Evelyn Glennie) and makes me eager to catch up with the rest.
This is another granite-hewn score, which seizes you by the magnificence of its sound-masses, then holds you by the logic of their mutations. At the very beginning I thought I had somehow strayed into Per Nørgård’s Sixth Symphony, whose magical, multi-layered, silvery descents it echoes. But the comparison with the Dane is a compliment to the music’s capacity to inspire awe and to retain control over an unfolding argument.
There is a catch, however. Tüür dedicates the work to the Dalai Lama and includes choral declamations of aphorisms from the young Buddha, Gandhi, Jimi Hendrix, St Augustine, Mother Teresa and Deepak Chopra. It’s hard to see anyone dissenting from the sentiments of the words themselves. But I have to wonder what the work gains from having such soundbite spirituality so blatantly spelt out (in English but in such a way that barely a word is audible). Furthermore, entitling the work Pietas (‘Piety’) itself offers a hostage to fortune, since what was an unquestioned virtue to the likes of Virgil and Cicero has acquired negative connotations in the domain of aesthetic values (as in ‘pious hopes’). Yet what an extraordinary feat of musical imagination is the work’s 20 minute concluding movement.
Few composers are able to sign themselves in with a single note. But Tüür manages it with the opening of his Piano Concerto (2008), a low C rung out by the piano, coloured by metallophones and prolonged by low strings and brass. To invoke the overtone series straight afterwards may seem like a rather obvious ploy; but it justifies itself in retrospect, thanks to the sheer harmonic and textural resourcefulness that follows. The three movements run continuously. You might not actually spot the divisions, except that the second movement is where the piano-writing suddenly, and rather grandly, evokes Messiaen, and that the third begins with a kind of free-jazz accompanied cadenza. The latter, I have to say, sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. Otherwise the combination of logic and boldness is engrossing from first to last.