Erkki-Sven Tüür/Brett Dean: Gesualdo (ECM New Series 2452)


Erkki-Sven Tüür
Brett Dean

Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Tallinn Chamber Orchestra
Tõnu Kaljuste conductor
Recorded February 2014 at The Tallinn Methodist Church
Engineer: Maido Maadik
Edited and mixed December 2014 by Maido Maadik, Manfred Eicher, Erkki-Sven Tüür, and Tõnu Kaljuste
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: September 18, 2015

I die, alas, in my suffering,
And she who could give me life,
Alas, kills me and will not help me…

These words, originally sung as Moro lassofrom the Sixth Book of Madrigalsby Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (1566-1613), recede to let their notes carry on alone in a transcription for string orchestra by conductor Tõnu Kaljuste. This inward look, by proxy, of a composer whose trespasses have been relegated to an afterthought by his oeuvre newly emphasizes repentance trickling through the historical cracks. Echoes of that repentence, in both melody and metaphor, ripple across Carlo (1997). Written by Australian composer Brett Dean, here making his ECM debut, it marshals the Estonian Philharmonic Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra via compressions of space and time. As displacements of the original seed multiply, we hear fear and trembling emerging from within, gradually pared down to morbid whispers and cries of pain, as if to recreate the crime scene that would define Gesualdo’s life, so that when his polyphony returns, it feels like self-deprecation.


Given that Carlo is somewhat reminiscent of Erkki-Sven Tüür’s Requiem (1994), no other composer would feel so well included to round out the program. Tüür’s own arrangement of the motet O crux benedicta spotlights a younger Gesualdo, allowing a slightly more optimistic glow to escape. This is followed by L’ombra della croce (2014), a piece for strings that exists somewhere between Illusion and Passion (both from 1993), and Psalmody (1993/2011). This last piece draws a line back to In Spe, a prog-rock band Tüür led between 1979 and 1982. As a dialogue between electric piano, orchestra, and choir, it speaks more to the flesh than to the spirit, at the same time fashioning youth into a crucible of nostalgias. Throughout its 22 minutes, one encounters a chronology of Tüür’s compositional development, from architectonic tinkerer to mosaic master. There’s even a touch of American minimalism to keep the experience centered, well aware as Tüür is that music bleeds.


Because he is one of the ECM New Series’ integral figures, any new Tüür material on disc is cause for celebration. Yet this pairing with Dean exceeds expectation and heralds a true return to form, such that by its end the album reveals itself to be at once a homecoming from, and departure for, a long journey.

O sorrowful fate,
She who could give me life,
Alas, gives me death.

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