|“Oxymoron” – contradictory terms in conjunction – seems to be a perfectly appropriate title for a CD presenting four pieces written between 1990 and 2005 by Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür for different vocal and instrumental line-ups: Tüür’s writing is characterized by juxtapositions of seemingly heterogeneous musical idioms always moulded with a rare sense of architecture and musical dramaturgy. “Oxymoron” is the fourth ECM-release dedicated exclusively to works by Erkki-Sven Tüür.
Tüür’s fourth ECM-album, consisting entirely of premier recordings of recent works, offers the opportunity to follow the stylistic development the Estonian has taken since the early nineties. His intense work with the performers who have championed his work for many years results in particularly fine and careful interpretations. “Dedication” is the earliest piece recorded here. “It was started in 1990 as a three-movement cello sonata, but working on it I realised that it was complete the way it was”, says Tüür. “I consider it one of my best chamber pieces from that period although it was never recorded then. I dedicated it to the memory of Kuldar Sink who was one of the most influential figures of the Estonian avant-garde in the sixties.” “Dedication”, like “Salve Regina” the newest piece on this album, acts as a calm and relaxed counterbalance against the two larger and more dramatic works.
“Ardor”, the expansive concerto for marimba and orchestra which was written in response to a request from the soloist of the present recording and the joint commission from the Gulbenkian foundation and the BBC, according to Tüür’s composer’s note “presents my pursuit of a harmonically richer language and is a transitional work towards my present style.” This new compositional method which appears fully-fledged in “Oxymoron” (2003) is marked by the search for harmonic unity by means of a “certain numeric code which acts genetically to form the whole composition including all its mutations and transformations.” Tüür speaks of “vectorial writing” as the voice-leading “in the wider sense follows projections of vectors in different directions.” “Salve Regina” which opens the album is another quite different example of this new method which has become compulsory for Tüür in recent years.
There is little room for coincidence in this conscientious and very precise compositional work, yet he himself, while listening to the first edit of the present recording, was startled to find out that all four pieces he had chosen – pieces of very different sonic character – are revolving around the same axis pitch “C”. The dominance of this pitch is not only evident from looking at the scores it is very clearly audible especially in the beginning of the four pieces recorded here. “It’s interesting to watch how my musical thinking has changed since 1990 when I wrote ‘Dedication’ for cello and piano although this thinking is still drawing on very similar inspirations”, says Tüür.
While rigour is never employed in a dogmatic or neo-serialist way the new technique has triggered a new flight of productiveness: Tüür is currently working on his sixth symphony and on commissions from the Australian chamber orchestra, the Münchener Kammerorchester and the Hilliard Ensemble. “The instrument I can express myself best on is the orchestra”, says Tüür, who sees the further development of large scores as his main task in the years to come.