Helena Tulve: Arboles lloran por lluvia (ECM New Series 2243)

Arboles lloran por lluvia

Helena Tulve
Arboles lloran por lluvia

Arianna Savall soprano, triple harp
Taniel Kirikal countertenor
Charles Barbier countertenor
Riivo Kallasmaa oboe
Marco Ambrosini nyckelharpa
NYYD Quartet
Helena Tulve glasses, wind chimes
Vox Clamantis
Ensemble Hortus Musicus
Jaan-Eik Tulve conductor
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra
Olari Elts conductor
Reyah hadas ‘ala recorded October 2009 at St. Nicholas Church, Tallinn
Extinction des choses vues recorded May 2010 at Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn
Engineer: Maido Maadik
Editing: Maido Maadik and Margo Kõlar
Produced by Estonian Public Broadcasting
silences/larmes, L’Équinoxe de l’âme and Arboles lloran por lluvia recorded August and September 2010 at Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, Tallinn
Engineer: Igor Kirkwood
Editing: Igor Kirkwood and Margo Kõlar
Recording supervision: Helena Tulve
Album produced by Manfred Eicher

You are with us and all the while not with us.
You are the soul and that is why you do not make yourself visible.

Arboles lloran por lluvia (Trees Cry for Rain) is ECM’s second album dedicated to the music of Estonian composer Helena Tulve, whose Lijnen sailed the label’s waters in 2008. This European-only release proves that sometimes the greatest treasures are worth seeking. If you care at all about contemporary music, you’ll want to obtain this one at all costs. Not only because Tulve’s compositional voice is more assured than ever, but also because that voice contains so many others, whose constitutions now step forward like memories by lure of hypnosis.

(Photo credit: Tarvo Hanno Varres)

Each of the five compositions featured on this program takes root in a text or theme that predates us even as it feels instantaneously born. Reyah hadas ’ala (The Perfume of the Myrtle Rises), for instance, may be scored for voices and early music consort, but its churning intimacy is fresh as fallen snow. The poem from which the piece gets its name is by Shalom Shabazi, a mystical Yemenite of the 17th century, who describes being awoken at midnight by an angelic vision. The performances of countertenors Charles Barbier and Taniel Kirikal, along with Vox Clamantis and Ensemble Hortus Musicus, make this scene—which would seem to demand much of its interpreters—feel as organic as breathing. Just as the poem allows us to imagine a light obscured by branches in the frayed edges of half-sleep, so too does Tulve’s setting thereof reveal by obfuscation. The text is its enzyme, but finishes as an alchemical transformation—or transfiguration, if you will—from word into flesh. The voices and strings intensify, becoming denser, but keep returning to an underlying pause. Cells of plainchant move in arcs so that we might better understand the straighter lines they frame. The oboe-like bombard is powerful to hear in this context, crying like a single beam of language that can only be understood through meditation. Images fade as quickly as they appear, as if inhaling light.

silences/larmes (silences/tears) nestles a handful of shorter poems by Mother Immaculata Astre, Abbess of Le Pesquié (a Benedictine nunnery in the south of France). Soprano Arianna Savall, oboist Riivo Kallasmaa, and Tulve herself (playing glasses and wind chimes) make for a crystalline skeleton to animate these verses, each a burst of pollen. There is a cautious, faunal quality to the emergence of voice and oboe, although the atmosphere is far from bucolic. After the performers recede into whispers (at which point they describe the brush of a night moth’s wings), the resurgent song becomes almost unsettling, for it emphasizes the messy biology that enables even the most basic sound to be produced.

L’Équinoxe de l’âme (The Equinox of the Soul) features Savall on voice and triple harp, joined by the NYYD String Quartet. Here the text is by 12th-century Sufi mystic Shabab al-Din Suhrawardi, and sung in a French translation from the Persian by Henry Corbin. It is dappled with parables from the Safir-i-Simurgh (The Calling of the Simurgh), and from them protrude spidery legs of awakening. As harp notes fall among seeds from laden branches, Savall navigates the text as if it were a gesture of divine scope. Suhrawardi’s messages are urgently cryptic, their answers revealed in the omnipresence of things. If, in each of these compositions, performers seem to be bonded by deeply microbial connections, in this context they are of the same body.

The album’s title composition is performed by Vox Clamantis, backing Savall and Kirikal as vocal soloists and Marco Ambrosini on the nyckelharpa. This time, Tulve turns her attention to a traditional Ladino (Sephardic) poem, for which the nyckelharpa’s muted pizzicati are an evocative treasure. Amid these raindrops, voices sing broken syllabus before more visions, now earthly, take focus. The Kirikal-Savall helix betrays the nervousness of wings, of leaves trembling beneath the weight of water, of the anticipation of physical union. Tonal changes add restorative brushstrokes to a decaying landscape, leaving Ambrosini in the hush of a sigh.

Although the final piece of the program, Extinction des choses vues (The Extinction of the Things Seen), features no vocalists, it is still rooted in a text: Jesuit thinker Michel de Certeau’s Extase blanche (White Ecstasy). Like Tulve’s later output, it traces a threshold between worlds. One can hear the influence of her illustrious teacher, Erkki-Sven Tüür. clearest in its fractal respiration and percussive skin, and in the distinctly threnody-like quality of this piece. Its mouth is a spiral, and the tongue that rests within is a nebula.

Arboles lloran por lluvia confirms in Tulve a voice and temperament comparable to Kaija Saariaho in that it looks beyond the label of “spectral” into a face, as of certain paintings, that is always staring back at you no matter where in the room you stand. If this music were a window, it would mourn the loss of light, drunk to the last drop by the leaves beyond its brow. It is perhaps in this spirit that the album bears dedication to Montserrat Figueras. The mother of Savall, her spirit is palpable in the recording, nodding and smiling throughout. Tulve thus attends to the ghosts between words and weaves them into a husk of dreams. Within them, she composes a world of movement without form.

Just as the trees cry for rain, so does the rain cry for trees.

Helena Tulve: Lijnen (ECM New Series 1955)

Helena Tulve

NYYD Ensemble
Olari Elts
Arianna Savall voice
Stockholm Saxophone Quartet
Sven Westerberg soprano saxophone
Jörgen Pettersson alto saxophone
Leif Karlborg tenor saxophone
Per Hedlund baritone saxophone
Emmanuelle Ophèle-Gaubert flute
Mihkel Peäske flute
Silesian String Quartet
Szymon Krzeszowiec violin
Arkadiusz Kubica violin
Lukasz Syrnicki viola
Piotr Janosik violoncello
Recorded between November 1997 and June 2006

Helena Tulve, part of a new generation of young Estonian composers, has the honorable distinction of being the only pupil of Erkki Sven-Tüür. Like her mentor, Tulve breaks down her music into bite-sized morsels, so that even her large-scale works feel like congregations of chamber ensembles. In this representative selection, we get a taste of the latter. Encountering these works for the first time, I hear them as a single story:

In à travers (1998), the ensemble opens with distant calls. A pack of animals wanders, guided by communication alone. These calls come closer as they are taken up by woodwinds. Rather than antagonize one another, they join forces, comingling in search of a new language through which they may repopulate their frozen world. An oboe soloist raises its cry, occasionally overblowing as if to wrench out as much emotion from its solitude as it can: the firstborn of the newly formed colony, flexing its hybrid voice as the pack falls into silence to hear what it has wrought. A viola bravely joins in. Lijnen (2003) continues this conversation, and introduces the lone soprano, who approaches with trepidation. She wanders the landscape like an anthropologist on her first solo field assignment. Her mind desires all the fame this study is sure to bring her, even as her heart yearns to be accepted into the fold, that she might shun the world’s obligations in favor of danger. She scours the terrain with her instruments, her notepads, and her books: all the material culture she has brought from a faraway land. The animals respond with confusion, putting up a dense resistance, not so easily thwarted by her sensitive approach. Her song is half lament and half appeal. Öö (1997) gives us a peek into the anthropologist’s dream. Only in slumber can she approximate this animal language in private. Abysses (2003) awakens her with warning cries. In her half-sleep they seem to come from beyond the forest, but as she grows more aware of the gravity of the situation, she reacts. In the opening haze of cendres (2001), she immediately abandons her tent and hides in the trees, peering out into the valley below. She watches the slow, careful dance that signals the battle to come. There is so much tension in the air that every hair on her body stands on end, and for that instant an invisible thread instinctively connects her to the very subjects of her study. There is a swipe of claws, a bid for distance, but this sets all eyes aflame as reinforcements emerge from thickets and underground hovels, with more yet hidden in reserve. Brief spats of chaos erupt. Eventually, these conflicts subside. The territory has been successfully defended. In the final piece, nec ros, nec pluvia… (2004), the anthropologist weeps because her favorite has been brutally killed. She stumbles down into the valley and weeps over the fallen body. The more she holds it, the more she smells like blood. The rest of the pack surrounds her and kneels to the ground. Once they have licked her clean, they watch her until she has shed her last tear. They no longer fear her, for she no longer fears them.

Lijnen is among the more exciting recordings to grace ECM’s New Series in the past few years. The beginnings and endings of these pieces are open links, flowing into one another in an ongoing chain. This allows us to approach them any way we wish and makes for an utterly genuine listening experience. Tulve is not interested in resolution, but in leaving us with more questions than we started with. In this way, the music stays with us, even if we don’t stay with it. Let’s hope partnership with the label continues.