Erkki-Sven Tüür: Exodus

Isabelle van Keulen violin

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Paavo Järvi conductor

Concerto for violin and orchestra

Aditus for orchestra

Exodus for orchestra

Recorded May 2002

ECM New Series 1830


Fono Forum, Stern des Monats 10/2003

Die Musik beginnt explosionsartig mit einem disharmonisch gesetzten Orchesterschlag, um dann unmittelbar in eine 64stel Bewegung der Geige umzuschlagen. Diese nervös aufscheinenden, sich blitzartig abwechselnden musikalischen Temperamente, dieses Wechselspiel von fließender Bewegung und vertikal gesetzter Statik ist bestimmend für Erkki-Sven Tüürs Musik. Tatsächlich haben wir es hier mit einer atemraubenden Produktion zu tun: Nicht nur die Faktur der Kompositionen überzeugt, auch die kompromisslose Interpretation von Paavo Järvi und dem Birmingham Symphony Orchestra stimmt glücklich - vom solistischen Einsatz von Isabelle von Keulen einmal ganz zu schweigen. Tüür ist ein kluger Dramatiker; seine Musik berührt, ganz ohne die baltisch-skandinavischen Klischees großer Gefühligkeit zu bemühen.
Tilman Urbach, Fono Forum

For some years now Erkki-Sven Tüür has been routinely described as the leading Estonian composer. With this disc he not only justifies that label but lays claim to wider recognition. Composed in 1998, his 35-minute three-movement Violin Concerto launches straight in with manic arpeggiati from the soloist that would not be out of place in a concerto by Ligeti - except that the gestures are more for the sake of expressive immediacy than for virtuoso game-playing. ... If anything the strongest affinity I detect is with Per Nørgård; not just because of the spiralling patterns, the occasional microtones and the metaphors of light and dark that Tüür's textures bring to mind, but because like the Dane he has become progressively more interested in the in-between processes of his music, rather than in its individual ideas. That makes for challenging listening; but when the sense of continuity and purpose is so strong, the rewards are great. This is music that is exhilaratingly open to experience, without ever lapsing into silliness or cheap thrills.Enormous responsibility is placed on the soloist, and Isabelle van Keulen shoulders it superbly. Both here and in the two equally recent orchestral studies (of which "Exodus" brings strong reminders of Tüür's early activities as a rock musician) Paavo Järvi has the CBSO playing as though the music has always been in their blood. The recording captures the full range of Tüür's orchestral colours, and the booklet includes an illuminating interview with the composer as well as helpful descriptive notes.
David Fanning, Gramophone

Tüür’s compositions have a wild, inventive edge, bringing together two utterly opposed styles – minimalism and modernism – and blending them or building dramatic tensions between them in a way so natural that it has to be heard to be believed. Isabelle van Keulen tackles the virtuosic Violin Concerto with an awe-inspiring combination of grit and fragility. In the first movement, the image she conjures at times is that of a wild bird trying to escape the thick forest of orchestral undertow; at others, she’s caught up in the swelling orchestral tread. She coaxes ever-increasing beauty from the slowly building slow movement, the climax dynamic yet with a brittle edge and her edgy, taut control of the final movement had me longing for more. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Järvi is warm, muscular and responsive, giving full rein to Tüür’s imaginative pull and flow. The recording quality is fresh and spacious throughout. The orchestral works are equally compelling: the witty and expressive “Aditus” and the dramatic “Exodus”.
Catherine Nelson, The Strad

Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür, interviewed in the notes for this new CD, and whatever it is he's doing, it's working. Minimalism? The intelligent sort, as practised by John Adams. Modernism? Shades of Ligeti, especially in the microtonal moments, but with some of the huge geological slabs of sound you might hear in a Magnus Lindberg score. Plus the rhythmic drive of a Steve Martland (Tüür used to be a rock musician), and also a kind of Pärt-like darkness and depth.

Just in case you can't tell already, I really liked this trio of first recordings, especially Tüür's Violin Concerto, which explodes from the speakers with a hyperactive burst of arpeggios from the soloist, which the orchestra picks up and turns back into sustained chords, before the fiddle player unpicks them again for us.

Tüür says he's never much liked the traditional idea of a virtuoso soloist with orchestral accompaniment, so he sets up a different dynamic: the soloist generating scales and harmonic sequences, which the orchestra picks up, transforms and then hands back for further comment or refinement. This leads to some truly startling and seriously enjoyable sounds, such as the turbulent bubbling of the pizzicato section in the first movement, or the slow ascent of the soloist out of the murky orchestral texture at the start of the second movement, before they climb skywards to join her.

Isabelle van Keulen is superb; she gave the first performance in Germany in 1999, and she played it at the Proms in August 2003. It's a tough role: short on extrovert display, long on inner drama and she's on right from the beginning, no holds barred.

Tüür's friend and fellow Estonian Paavo Järvi exerts absolute control over the CBSO, for whom one of the other works, Exodus, was commissioned. This is the team that gave the first performance four years ago, and they revel in its elemental savagery.

It's also a fine recording, ECM at its best, and the notes are helpful rather than being an idiosyncratic echo of the artwork. If you haven't heard his voice before, try Tüür as soon as you can. He's one of the most physically involving contemporary composers; perhaps not the first Estonian to spring to mind in classical music, but on the evidence of these three recent works a vital, involving voice nonetheless.  Andrew McGregor  11 August 2003


Tüür’s Violin Concerto, dedicated to the composer’s father, is a substantial work in three movements, although this is as far as comparison with the traditional concerto goes. The first – and, by far, the most complex – movement must be unique. During the first half of this long movement, the violin’s figurations are constantly interrupted and wildly imitated by the orchestra, in a sort of surreal game. Halfway through the movement, the soloist manages to find his/her way out of the apparent chaos that prevailed up to that point. After a fiery climax, the violin launches a sinuous melody, now supported by the orchestra that – at long last – seems to play the game in a fair way. The first movement ends with a huge sound-wave, out of which divisi cellos and basses softly emerge to introduce the slow movement. The soloist spells out a deceptively simple scalic phrase, quickly developing into a warmly lyrical melody. At first appeased and dreamy, the music gains considerable momentum leading to a blazing climax abruptly giving way to a restatement of the opening section. It also glances back briefly at the violin’s figurations from the first movement. The final movement, although rather unconventional, is a lively, often brilliant Rondo displaying formidable energy. In an interview printed in the insert notes, the composer mentions that he originally planned to have two movements only (not surprisingly, however, since both the Second and Third Symphonies are also in two movements), but that he eventually felt that he had to add a third, brilliant final movement.

Aditus was composed in memory of Tüür’s mentor and friend the late Lepo Sumera. The piece evokes Sumera’s ebullient personality, and thus deliberately eschews elegiac pathos, although it ends with a tender, other-worldly coda.

A commission from the CBSO, Exodus is a large-scale symphonic movement of some considerable substance. The title obliquely refers to the Exodus episode from the Bible, but also – on a more general level – to each individual’s life journey, from birth to death. The music is appropriately on an epic scale, varied, going through a wide range of emotions and conflicting moods before dissolving into the void. Exodus is an impressive monolith of forceful energy, at times verging on violence, displaying a remarkable orchestral mastery as well as an irrepressible sense of direction, which characterises much of this composer’s music. In a previous review, I compared Tüür to Mark-Anthony Turnage whose Silent Cities and Uninterrupted Sorrow display a similar formal and emotional outlook.

I will not repeat my earlier comments about Tüür’s music. These pieces, superbly played and beautifully recorded, confirm this composer’s growing status as the most prominent Estonian composer of his generation. Warmly recommended. 05/2004 Hubert Culot


Judging from this release, the prolific and remarkable mid-career Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür is eminently worth discovering. The three selections here, all for orchestra, show oblique traces of other tonemeisters while fashioning a style that easily transcends anybody else's oeuvre to project a distinctive and compelling voice. Berio's and Ligeti's virtuosic large ensemble compositions are in Tüür's ear as is minimalism from both sides of the Atlantic. Touches of Schnittke and Ades can also be discerned, but this Estonian's technical facility either of them. The music is not tonal, but does bear scalar fingerprints.

The Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1998) consists of a lengthy and intense scherzo, essentially a variation set on its opening violin arpeggio figure; a still and slow midsection, built from cluster harmonies and describing a narrative curve shape; and a brash and busy toccata finale. The violin writing is showy and challenging, yet idiomatic and telling. Here, as in the other selections on the CD, scoring is colorful and splendidly balanced, even at its most dense. It's a first rate listen.

Both Aditus (2000, revised 2002) and Exodus (1999) are stun-level gripping pieces, full-throated and brimming with ferocious visceral energy. The former builds a vibrant edifice from pyramid stacked cluster ideas that faintly recall those of Arvo Pärt's massed cello opus Fratres. But it's not a strictly minimalist opus; these clusters are expressed in more varied ways than anyone might think possible. Exodus gets closest to the minimalist aesthetic, but even here the persistent repeated note patterns restlessly shift pitch, are surrounded by myriad elaborations,and endure all manner of interruptions in their headlong rush to climax. This work's quiet, ecstatic close surprises and really convinces. Structures in both compositions seem intuitive, but satisfying. And the scoring is virtuoso-caliber vibrant and multi-hued.

Performances are terrific. Led by Paavo Järvi, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra tackles this challenging fare with conspicuous success. Violin soloist Isabelle van Keulen puts forth a big, penetrating tone and technique to burn in both hands. Sound is top-flight. Except for one bad splice a little over halfway through the violin concerto's first movement, production is excellent. Run, do not walk, to obtain this splendid CD.  David Cleary