Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Drive a taxi during the day, sing Pärt in the evening, play Nielsen at the weekend. Northernmost of the Baltic realms, Estonia lives and breeds culture. Makes the most of education and the fine arts. And grandly glories in Paavo Järvi’s Estonian Festival Orchestra, charismatic gold standard ambassador of the Pärnu Music Festival.

The voice of a resolute, remarkably driven people, focusing on five very different composers of rampantly free-wheeling imagination in elemental, stratospheric performances recorded ‘live’ in Pärnu’s Concert Hall between 2012 and 2021, this hour-long album should be on every concert promoter’s desk, everywhere.

Tõnu Kõrvits (born 1969) To the Moonlight, ‘Three Blues for Symphony Orchestra’ (July 19, 2020). The pro-active Estonian Music Information Centre précises Kõrvit’s style as “hypnotic journeys through landscapes of nature and folk tradition, human soul and subconscious.” At the time, I wrote of the work’s “melodic expanses, diatonic roads, a Sibelian sweep of sound and incident as geologically/regionally referenced as it is spiritually and sensually under-currented, a richly sonorous orchestral palette.” In her informed booklet essay Nele-Eva Steinfeld comments that the music was inspired by Jimmy Webb’s song ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ [“she’s hard to call your own”] (1974,, after Robert A. Heinlein’s sci-fi novel).

Ülo Krigul (born 1978) Chordae (July 21, 2013); The Bow (July 18, 2021).  Krigul is a crossover figure in Estonia, bridging styles and disciplines as the moment or opportunity take him. Reviewing The Bow‘s premiere, I professed ignorance of its underlying parameters while noting the impact of the music. “Brass and percussion had their say [magnificently], yet the journey wasn’t only theirs. Krigul writes ambitiously for big forces, but he can be economical and selective too. The ending, disappearing into the bowels of the earth, came at just the right moment, structurally and spiritually – he’s a time master who knows when to stop the pendulum.”  Steinfeld identifies it as “a classical overture”, its title/inspiration borrowed from the late Kim Ki-duk’s 2005 film of the same name. “Power and beautiful sound – I want to live like this until I draw my last breath”. ‘Bow’ in the sense of archery, a violin, gratitude, acknowledgement, humility. Chordae, Steinfeld says, is “an order, an accordance among pitches … based on certain specific chords and their integral characteristics”.

Tauno Aints (born 1975) Overture Estonia (July 17, 2014), commissioned by the Pärnu Music Festival. An energised man of the theatre, from ballet to opera, Aints is another crossover mover, drawn to concert hall, pop, arrangement, film and youth education. EMIC notes his “vivid imagery, lively characters, colourful sound environments, tonal and modal harmony, soft stylisation, microtonality, [and] playing around with timbral colours”. He studied with Sumera and Tulve. Estonia, onward marching then contemplative, breathtakingly orchestrated, is about seeing and feeling the fatherland in all its guises. The (post-)romantic closing pages, with a fragmentary solo for the EFO’s Berlin concertmaster, Florian Donderer, dream on the wing.

Helena Tulve (born 1972) L’ombre derrière toi, ‘The Shadow behind You’ (July 29, 2012). Tulve completed her studies under Erkki-Sven Tüür at the Estonian Academy of Music in Tallinn before attending Jacques Charpentier’s classes at the Conservatoire Superieur de Paris. Her interests and applications are wide – from Gregorian chant to Judaism to orientalism to IRCAM to Ligeti and Scelsi. “Of utmost importance to me”, she maintains, “is the extending of musical boundaries. By this I mean the extension of timbral, formal and stylistic borders as well as the opening-up of music’s geographical boundaries, the latter greatly advanced by the former.” Unpublished, L’ombre derrière toi was commissioned by the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, which gave the first performance in Tallinn in January 2012 at the House of the Black Heads. Scored for strings, the Pärnu repeat featured here substitutes a viola and two cellos (Máté Szücs, Indrek  Leivategija, Marius Järvi) for the original three gambas of the premiere. “Face the sunshine, and your shadow will fall behind you” (Daily Intelligencer, 1862).

Lepo Sumera (1950-2000), Olympic Music I. Sumera was Pärnu 2020’s featured composer. His was a powerful voice of imagination, curiosity, transition and sophisticated ability. From 1988 to 1992, during the so-called Singing Revolution of the Baltic States, he was Estonia’s Minister of Culture – exemplar of a time and place when cultural appointees were cultured men. Olympic Music I, written for the opening ceremony of the Tallinn yachting regatta at the boycotted 1980 Games, was, Steinfeld clarifies, “initially recorded with quadraphonic sound, the balance of instrument groups deliberately altered to boost the illusion of power and multi-dimensionality”. Ghosts lurk within – Vangelis somewhere, Northern skies and sounds, repetitive motifs of Sibelian allusion and orchestration, enduring, intoning pedal-points. This performance (July 20, 2020) weaves spells, fading out the CD in a receding, controlled decrescendo, gauged theatrically. “Genuinely Shakespearean” in the gamut of his emotions (Eino Tamberg), Sumera died at his half century. “Estonia’s musical torchbearer.”

Dynamically cinematic, from murmurous sighs to mountainous ascents, caress to conquest, these are visceral, high-octane readings. The EFO, tightly co-ordinated, pulverising in attack, harmonious in chorus, give Järvi pearls and jewels. He in turn gifts them nurturing, encouragement and quietly unflustered direction. Musicians making music. It’s a blissful marriage.

Engineering/editing/re-mastering – Maido Maadik (1960-2014), Siim Mäesalu, Tammo Sumera – is glowingly, panoramically balanced, all layers and dimensions of the music flattered and liberated, immersing the listener in a tsunami of resonances and associations yet with air to breathe. One hell of a ride. Alpha 863.

  • Pärnu 2020

  • Pärnu 2021

  • Pärnu 2022