Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Beethoven refracted and contemplated: Peeter Vähi's Hommage à Brillance de Lune;

Peeter Vähi Hommage à Brillance de Lune; Hortus Musicus; ERP
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 1 September 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A contemporary Estonian composer's homage to Beethoven also becomes a memorial for another contemporary composer, Giya Kancheli

Peeter Vähi - Hommage à Brillance de Lune - ERP

Hommage à Brillance de Lune
is a fascinating, multi-layered work in which a series of influences intersect. The original idea was Estonian composer Peeter Vähi's work for oboe and organ on the theme from Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata to be premiered during the Beethoven 250th anniversary year. But in October 2019 the Soviet Georgian composer Giya Kancheli died and the Estonian ensemble Hortus Musicus (Andres Mustonen, violin and artistic director, Ivo Sillamaa, piano, Valter Jurgensen, trombone, Taavo Remmel, double bass) gave a pair of memorial concerts for Kancheli in the Arvo Pärt Centre and in the Dome Church in Tallinn. As a result of a request from Andres Mustonen for a work for the concert, Vähi speedily produced a version of Hommage à Brillance de Lune for Hortus Musicus' forces and the work was performed like this in October 2019. The original version, for oboe and organ, was premiered by Hortus Musicus on 11 July 2020, at Viljandi Early Music Festival in Estonia.


This short disc from Estonian Record Productions (ERP) presents Peeter Vähi's Hommage à Brillance de Lune in its version for violin, piano, trombone and double bass performed by Hortus Musicus. The result is thus a ten-minute homage to not one but two composers.

Founded in Soviet-era Estonia in 1972 by Andres Mustonen, Hortus Musicus is technically an Early Music ensemble, but they are involved in music from the 8th to the 21st century.  We reviewed their disc Jerusalem in 2018 (a sequence of Early Music, traditional Arab melodies and traditional Jewish melodies exploring what the idea of the Holy City has meant to the different peoples), and a disc of contemporary Estonian composers Galina Grigorjeva and Lepo Sumera in 2014 (see Hilary's review).

Peeter Vähi's work on this disc begins with an expressive solo violin in music which at first seems to have nothing to do with Beethoven, but then elements of the famous triplet figure from Beethoven's sonata are introduced. The piano then joins, and we hear, for the first and only time, a fully developed exposition of the main subject of the sonata, thereafter Vähi meditates on it, de-constructs it and reflects it. The two elements of the theme, the triplet figure and the repeated notes, are never far away, but we are always conscious of another hand, of Vähi's reflection and contemplation. There is wit too, particularly in the rather striking conclusion.

Vähi's music is highly varied (see my review of his Maria Magdalene), but a constant is a spiritual element (something that he had in common, in a way, with Giya Kancheli) and here you sense a spiritual contemplation of an element of Beethoven. There is a distinct whiff of the romantic about the piece too, but then given the source material how could there not be. Given that Vähi's conception of the work was for oboe and organ, I was fascinated at how he uses timbre here in such a distinctive way. Having two such characterful low instruments as the trombone and double bass is used in a striking way. One thing that I think ERP has missed is to give us both versions, it would have been lovely to hear the version for oboe and organ after this one.

The CD is presented in a handsome booklet with a reminiscence of how the piece came to be created, along with the opening pages of the music in the version for oboe and organ.

Composers' homages to each other are strange and curious things, and do not always partake of the same elements as the music of the original; just think of Arvo Part's wonderful Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten. Here we have another contemporary Estonian composer paying his own distinctive homage to Beethoven whilst writing something in memory of a dear musical colleague.

Peeter Vähi (born 1955) - Hommage à Brillance de Lune
Hortus Musicus
Recorded 20 May 2020, Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn
ERP 11920 1CD [10.45]

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