Estonian music has been the rage in classical circles in recent years, especially the works of Arvo Pärt. Yet another composer’s star is rising in the east of Europe: Erkki-Sven Tüür.
Friday’s concert by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Talinn Chamber Orchestra showed just how different the music of these two composers can be.
Presented by the Carlsen Center of Johnson County Community College, each half of the program featured the music of one composer. The ensemble is one of the world’s great exponents of this music and did not disappoint its audience.
Born in 1959, Tüür gained some attention in the late 70s as a founder and flutist in a rock band with a provocative name in a country that was part of the Soviet Union: “In Spe” (Latin for “In Hope.”)
His “Passion,” a brief orchestral excerpt from a 1993 work entitled “Action, Passion, Illusion,” opened the concert. The music began with slow, thick and solemn polyphonic lines played by the double basses and cellos. The violas and violins entered later, with the violins adding musical ornaments that became ever more frenzied and eventually overtook the musical texture. The orchestra played convincingly, with excellent tuning and a strong sense of ensemble.
Tüür’s “Requiem” for chorus, strings and piano followed, employing a truncated version of the traditional text for the Catholic Mass for the dead. The work opened with the striking of a triangle and a vocal chant by the male singers over slowly moving string basses. The ensemble employed a broad palette of musical sounds, from traditional melodic patterns based in tonality to rapid sonic clusters in the strings. The pianist plucked the piano strings by hand and played open-handed tone clusters.
Again, the ensemble played the music proficiently. At one point just before the “Sanctus” text, the strings and piano played a series of rhythmically disjointed chords with outstanding synchronization.
After the near constant dissonance of Tüür’s music, that of Arvo Pärt seemed mild and beautiful by contrast.
“Orient & Occident,” a short string piece displayed its basis in tonality by its opening major triad. Monophonic lines were occasionally punctuated by polyphonic chords. The 7-minute piece said all it needed to in the first two minutes, though.
Pärt’s “Te Deum” is a classic of spiritual minimalism, and was the highlight of the concert. Conductor Tönu Kaljuste, the founder of the orchestra and choir, divided the singers into three groups placed along the back of the stage.
The performance was magnificent, with singers and instrumentalists employing minimal vibrato but rich tone, wonderfully crafted phrasing and effective dynamic contrast to underscore the meaning of the text.