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MATI KUULBERG A musical portrait

Sonata for two pianos (1976)
Nata-Ly Sakkos and Tolvo Peaske, pianos
Sonata Ho. 4 for solo violin (1983)
Lemmo Erendi, violin
Saxophone Quartet (1986)
Clavi Kasemaa, Villu Veski,
Valdur Neumann, Hendrik Nagla.
PianoTrio No.2 "Alla svedse" (1987)
Tallina Trio
Flute Concerto (1994)
Jaan Oun, flute/Orchester des Estnischen Rundfunks/Antoine Mitchell

Antes Edition BM-CD 31.9087
[Bella Musica 1997, Recorded 1977- 1995, 70'] (Distributor: Hännsler)

A welcome to an interesting batch of CDs of 20.C Estonian music, none of it having, to my knowledge, made it across the seas to UK, as is the case for so many countries without a flourishing economy. To sample them, first two of the younger composers represented, followed by a senior symphonist and opera composer.

The musical language of MATI KUULBERG (b.1947) is accessible, eclectic and mostly original enough to deserve a welcome.

The early two-piano sonata is somewhat dogged, with a strict fugue, a set of variations and the promise of 'employing all the technical capabilities of the instrument' (he clearly hadn't heard Berio's Sequenza IV of 1965!), nor was I greatly taken by the piano trio.

But there is more imagination, and an attractive voice to be encountered, in the compact sonata for violin (his own instrument) which incorporates ancient Inca folk tunes and does employ more advanced techniques, including flageolet to imitate American Indian flutes - definitely one for violinists seeking different repertoire to explore. Likewise the saxophone quartet; far more mellow than most, without the stridency hard to avoid, and ending quietly. The flute concerto is engaging, with a deft skill in orchestration.

The recording quality is fine and the notes adequate, but show a certain 'provincial' naivety; for an international market they might better have been entrusted to a music writer than left to the composer himself?

LEPO SUMERA Chamber Music
Quasi improvisata; BBB - Fur Boris Bjorn Bagger (1992/93); Zwei Stucke (1977) for solo violin; Walzer (1984); Zwei Capricci (1984) for solo clarinet; Tanzende, Singen,Traurige & Schweigende de Odaliske (1997/99); Senza metrum for clarinet & piano (1986); Trauriger Toreador (1984)
Lupus in tabula (1998) for four saxophones

Kadri-Ann Somera & Peep Lassmann, piano. Niina Murdvee, violin, Henri-David Varema , cello Janika Lentsius flute, Toomas Vavilov, clarinet
Boris Bjorn Bagger, guitar Saxophonquartett Tallinn

Antes Edition BM-CD 31.9165 [TT 71'21]

LEPO SUMERA (1950-2000) died prematurely of a heart attack but had made a huge impact on Estonian cultural life, having been Minister of Culture during his country's transitional phase 1988-92; in the notes with this release he is claimed as 'a great Nordic symphonist side by side with Sibelius'.

The chamber music collected here is mainly on a small scale, chips from the block. He eschews serialism and is fairly close to American minimalism, with strong rhythmic preoccupations. Sad Toreador is a melancholy take on the braggadocio of Bizet's bullfighter. Lupus in tabula for saxophones explores with freshness a medium which fascinated him. The Odalisques 'build bridges from the Baltic to the Orient'. A pleasant CD, but probably this composer would better be approached via his orchestral music.

(Reviews of Sumera's orchestral music can be found on http://www.musicweb.uk.net/classrev/2003/Aug03/Sumera.htm etc)

EINO TAMBERG Orchestral Music

Symphony No.2 Op. 74; Concerto for violin and orchestra Op. 64; Symphony No.1 Op. 57*

Staatliches Symphonieorchester Estland/Peeler Lilje; Irina Botschkowa, Violin
*Orchester des Estnischen Rundfunks/Neeme Jarvi

ANTES BM-CD 31.9075 [59 mins]

Recorded 1978-86, these major works by Eino Tamberg (b. 1930) are accessible and interesting orchestal works by an accomplished and highly respected senior Estonian composer, who has attracted recent enthusiastic notice for a recording of his opera Cyrano de Bergerac. He does not strive for unique individuality at all costs to make his mark, and if you enjoy and admire the symphonies of Shostakovich and concertos of Prokfiev these should appeal. The symphonies do not carry, however, the weight of gloom of the Russian. The compact, well crafted and transparent violin concerto brought to mind Prokfiev's delicious No 1, and could be a favourite with radio and concert audiences in UK if taken up by an enterprising violinist.

The three works here take just under an hour. My only criticism is of the perfunctory liner note by "EH", who spends all his energy, and two pages of text, defending the composer against charges that his music is not of "absolute, unconditional originality", explaining that the pursuit of hyperindividualism leads to isolation and then "the babble of Babel would be deafening"! [C.p. my less negative view of A 20th Century Tower of Babel]

Whether you seek totally unique compositional voices, or just want to make acquaintance with good, unfamiliar music from countries outside the mainstream, this Antes collection from Estonia is well worth investigating.

© Peter Grahame Woolf