Erkki-Sven Tüür is surely one of the most consistently high-quality composers around. Even relatively early works, such as his Insula deserta for string orchestra, manage to blend the ecstatic and the ascetic in an utterly distinctive (hard not to add ‘Nordic’) way that still sounds fresh. When the bolder, more stylistically emancipated perspectives of his recent music meet the direct, almost vibrato-less timbres of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, the results are more than musically impressive; they are spiritually stirring.
Tüür’s ability to transmute if not base metal into gold then at least the familiar into the magical is immediately evident, as the grandest piece on this disc, Awakening, begins with inchoate swirls that turn the tired old ‘tuning-up’ gesture into a real tuning-in. This 36‑minute cantata, commissioned for Tallinn as European Capital of Culture in 2011, intersperses 20th-century Estonian poetry with Latin texts related to Easter. The composer reminds us that ‘Awakening can be viewed as a lifelong process’. And without any resort to crowd-pleasing exhibitionism, he fulfils his aim of composing an ‘awakening to the light’. One of those same poets, Ernst Enno, is selected for the unaccompanied The Wanderer’s Evening Song (2001), another deeply felt piece, composed for and dedicated to the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, who perform it here with luminous precision.
The booklet essay risks the claim that ‘the listener who encounters [Tüür’s music] is touched, overwhelmed, astonished, exalted, even rendered speechless by the suggestiveness of its sounds, images and the memories it evokes’. A hostage to fortune, perhaps, but for my money the claim is not so wildly exaggerated. Tüür’s shimmering, twinkling, yet at the same time edgy textures may be an acquired taste. I can only say that I feel greatly enriched for having acquired it.