Neeme Järvi uncovers Estonian treasures

I first discovered Estonia’s rich classical music heritage through Neeme Järvi recordings; specifically, his BIS releases of Edvard Tubin and Arvo Pärt. Maestro Järvi surprises me once again with this new recording of Estonian orchestral music.

All three composers were born within an eight-year span (1878-1885), and all studied at the St. Petersberg Conservatoire. That influence can be heard in several of these works, although there’s also a strong nationalist strain in them as well.

Artur Lemba was a major pianist in Russia and Estonia. His 1910 Piano Concerto No. 1 in G major starts off in a Tchaikovsky-inspired fashion. The concerto is full of grand gestures appropriate to a student of Artur Rubenstein. But there’s nothing derivative about them. The concerto has a charming lyricism to it I found quite appealing.

Mihkel Lüdig is best remembered for his work with Estonian choirs. He also established several important music festivals that promoted works by Estonian composers. This album features three of his short orchestral works. They show Lüdig to be a fine orchestrator. These are tightly-constructed, beautifully composed miniatures that heavily reference Estonian folk music.

Artur Kapp studied with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. He’s considered one of the founders of Estonian symphonic music. He’s represented by two works in this release.

Kapp’s 1905  Viimne piht (The Last Confession) was originally written for violin and organ. This arrangement for violin and orchestra retains all the simple beauty of the original. It may be a bit sentimental, but the music is charming, nevertheless.

Kapp had a troubled relationship with the Communist Party. A major musical figure in Estonia, he was forced to resign his positions after the Soviets invaded. His fourth symphony was finished in 1948. The “Youth Symphony” was dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the Soviet Young Communist League. That was most likely a dedication of expedience — or perhaps even survival.

Whatever the reason, the symphony has little to do with anything Russian or Soviet. There is a youthful energy about it, though. And there are many references to Estonian folk tunes throughout.

And of course, the performances throughout this release are superb. Solo violinist Triin Ruubel and solo pianist Mihkel Poll are Estonian. The Estonian National Symphony Orchestra is conducted by the Estonian conductor, Neeme Järvi. Everyone involved is performing music of their countrymen, steeped in the traditions of their culture.

All of these works deserve more performances and more recordings. But I suspect these may be the definitive realizations of this superb music.

Arthur Kapp, Mihkel Lüdig, Artur Lemba: Orchestral Works
Triin Ruubel, violin; Mihkel Poll, piano
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra; Neeme Järvi, conductor
Chandos 20150

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