Erkki-Sven Tüür: Strata (CD Review)

Erkki-Sven Tüür
Strata
ECM Records New Series 2040 CD

In his recent music, Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür has dispensed with some of the polystylistic juxtapositions of his earlier works in favor of a methodical, mathematically devised approach he calls “vectorial writing.” While this approach does seem to create a more unified sensibility to his harmonic language, the results never seem mechanical. Rather, Tüür’s recent music is capable of a passionate immediacy that’s often quite refreshing. Yet at the same time, he’s unafraid of employing swaths of dissonance and creating intricate formal designs.

Strata, Tüür’s Sixth Symphony, is an intense work, brimming with dynamic power. Emerging from icy verticals and bustling counterpoint are myriad swells of knotty cluster chords and fierce, angular melodies, which gradually build to explosive orchestral climaxes. Strict constructionists may quibble with calling a single-movement work a symphony; but then again, they’d have to argue with Lutoslawski on that score too! Strata certainly tends to favor the heft and developmental formal trajectory of a large-scale symphonic work rather than the episodic/programmatic elements of a tone poem. In a confident and detailed performance, the Nordic Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Anu Tali, makes a strong impression here in their debut for the ECM imprint.

Strata is paired with Noesis, a double concerto for the sibling duo of violinist Carolin Widmann and clarinetist Jörg Widmann. Their solo lines emerge from a slowly evolving, prevailingly ominous orchestral backdrop, which is only occasionally brightened by shimmering chords from pitched percussion. The Widmanns are given numerous dovetailing duets and ebullient solo turns which contrast with their stark accompaniment. Eventually, the orchestra gives chase, adding propulsive countermelodies, jagged repeated string chords, sustained dissonant wind clusters, and eruptive brass and drums to the proceedings. Once again, Tüür has fashioned a labyrinthine journey in a single formidable and fascinating movement. Recommended.

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Upcoming US performances of music by Erkki-Sven Tüür:

February 24, 25, 26 & March 1 – New York, NY – NY Philharmonic with Paavo Järvi conducting NY premiere of “Aditus”
(details)

February 24 – Washington, DC – Portrait Concert with New Tallinn Trio at the Phillips Collection

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