Rein Rannap and the Estonian National Symphony conducted by Ainārs Rubikis, April 29 at the Estonia Concert Hall.
It’s nice occasionally to be reminded that the "classical" genre is still a living, breathing, expanding entity. The parade of works by long-dead men is the stock in trade of most symphonic music programs. Friday’s show at the Estonia Concert Hall was that rarest of musical evenings - two pieces by men who are actually still alive and who were also in attendance, one of whom performed.
The night belonged to Baltic composers, in order of works performed; Latvian Pēteris Vasks, and Estonians Rein Rannap and Eino Tamberg. Tamberg died on Christmas Eve of last year. Vasks was in attendance and received a bouquet of flowers and an ovation for his work. Rannap performed his own piece. Conducting was Latvian Ainārs Rubikis.
Rubikis is quickly gaining international attention as one of the fine young conductors, spoken of in the same breath as Venezuelan sensation Gustavo Dudamel. Both are recent winners of the Gustav Mahler conducting competition in Bamberg, Germany. Rubikis is a lean, athletic type, bounding on to the stage in a black caftan-like coat and conducting with fluid and assured movements, musical nous in evidence. Vasks’ "Credo" led off the evening, Rubikis directing the Estonian National Symphony through this sublime piece of modern composition. Redolent of Wagnerian symphonic passages, "Credo" meandered beautifully, reaching a crescendo, only to fall back to a quiet and emotional coda. It is a pleasing and transcendent piece.
Rein Rannap is something of an Estonian celebrity who has been on the scene for many decades. He was a judge on "Eesti otsib Superstaari," the Estonian version of "Pop Idol," and his promotional photo conjures up an Eric Satie-esque eccentricity. He also plays an unusual instrument, the celesta, which is a kind of music-box keyboard. He played the celesta and harpsichord for his work "Concerto grosso in uno movimento," a playful bit of fun - something like listening to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas music in April. The Concerto brought to mind film music; there is a story here, maybe a kid’s story, with as Rannap himself says, "intonations of folk and rock." He deftly moved between celesta and harpsichord.
The finale for the night was Tamberg’s "Ballet Symphony," hearkening from his late 1950s Soviet youth. Rubikis took a nifty bounce back on to the stage for this challenging, layered work, which took the audience through myriad musical worlds. Tamberg had much to say in this symphony, from a mysterious and uncertain opening, to Straussian waltz pastiche, and a bombastic second movement. There were heaps of little solo parts for harp, violin, percussion and clarinet. Small themes predominated at the expense of unity. There were a lot of parts, but I am not sure they exceeded their sum.
Review by Mike Amundsen