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Music Review: Erkki-Sven Tuur – Strata

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Composer Erkki-Sven Tuur has delivered a powerful piece of work with Strata. The disc contains two compositions, “Strata“ and “Noesis,“ both recorded with the Nordic Symphonic Orchestra, conducted by Anu Tali. In addition, “Noeses” features the solo violin of Carolin Widmann, and the solo clarinet of Jorg Widmann. All acquit themselves marvelously.

Erkki-Sven Tuur’s sixth symphony is “Strata.“ As the title implies, “Strata” slowly moves and shifts over the course of its 32 minutes. The work is a single movement, which is unusual. Actually, calling “Strata” a single-movement symphony is a bit of word-play on the composer’s part, which he freely admits. “I deliberately title some of my works symphonies in order to provide the listener with a certain ’code’ through which they can access my music,” Tuur says.

There are a number of distinct segments to the composition. For the sake of brevity, I am going to break them down into three broad strokes. During the first we are introduced in a slowly building, and very dramatic manner. In the second, the energy rises to an almost fever pitch. The close finds us in (somewhat) familiar symphonic territory once again. Symbolically, we have taken a tectonic journey, gradually working up to either an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, and then easing back into a state of near-serenity.

The second piece on the disc is a concerto for violin, clarinet and orchestra, titled “Noesis.” The title references Plato’s “highest form of knowledge,” which is not a bad way to spell out your intentions. I wonder what Plato would have thought of this. I guess he would have had to time travel, since many of the instruments utilized did not even exist during the time of ancient Greece. Be that as it may, he might very well have enjoyed the composition.

After the various modes of “Strata,” the 20-minute “Noesis” is fairly straightforward in a compositional sense. There really are three distinct sections to this piece, all describing something of a “love affair” between the clarinet and the violin of the soloists. The orchestra backs them up in various ways, and at times comments on the proceedings. The result is a splendid meld of sound between violin, clarinet and the symphonic orchestra.

For me, the ECM New Series is the finest imprint for contemporary classical music that presently exists. Strata has done nothing but confirm that impression. Bold, yet never off-putting — this is serious, adventurous, and above all, highly listenable music. Strata is absolutely worth looking into for anyone even slightly curious about the current state of the art.

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