Sunday 14 June 2015

Baltic Sea Voyage from Kristjan Järvi and the Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic

Baltic Sea Voyage - Kristjan Järvi - Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic
Baltic Sea Voyage, music by Nielsen, Stenhammar, Grieg, Sibelius, Gelgotas, Pärt, Kalnins, Kilar, Stravinsky, Wagner; Kristjan Järvi, Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic; naive
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 05 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Brilliant youth orchestra from the Baltic region take us on a vivid and varied sea journey

The Baltic Sea region was a highly unified area in the age when sea travel was the logical and most direct means of transport. So the Baltic Sea united what, in our modern land based view, can seem a slightly disparate group of countries: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Germany. But all share a common heritage, and the Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic aims to bring together young musicians from the Baltic Sea region. Founded and conducted by Kristjan Järvi, the orchestra consists of 100 musicians aged between 18 and 28 from conservatoires in the Baltic region and has a regular programme of touring. 

Kristjan Järvi and the Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic
Kristjan Järvi and the Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic
On this disc from naive, they explore the music of the region with a work by a composer from each of the 10 countries under the title of Baltic Sea Voyage. The varied journey takes in Carl Nielsen's Overture to Maskerade from Denmark, William Stenhammar's Mellanspiel from Sangen op.44 from Sweden, Edvard Grieg's At the Wedding from Peer Gynt op.23 from Norway, Ballade from Jean Sibelius's Karelia Suite from Finland, Gedminas Gelgotas' Never Ignore the Cosmic Ocean from Lithuania, Arvo Part's Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten from Estonia, Imanats Kalnins' Rock Symphony No.4 from Latvia, Wojciech Kilar's Orawa from Poland, Sacrificial Danse from Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring from Russia, and Brunhildes Opfertat fom Henk de Flieger's Richard Wagner arrangement The Ring: An Orchestral Adventure from Germany.

The works on the disc are a varied and disparate group, with the more traditional items, spiritual minimalism, dynamic folk-lore inspired pieces and the more popular inspirations for some of the modern items. The disc encourages you to listen half-blind as we are supplied with little information about the pieces beyond their titles.

We start with the overture to the opera Maskerade by Danish composer Carl Nielsen (1865-1931), which Nielsen wrote in 1906 based on a classic comedy by Ludvig Holberg (who also inspired Grieg's Holberg Suite). The overture is bright and busy, full of brilliant charm. Nielsen's Swedish contemporary Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927) is perhaps less well known. Mellanspel comes from his cantata Sången (The song), Op. 44, from 1921. It is a slow and thoughtful piece, with more than a touch of Elgar's nobilmente about it.

With At the Wedding from Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) we reach more familiar ground. Originally written in 1874 as incidental music for a stage adaptation of Ibsen's Peer Gynt, the music took on a long and varied life of its own. At the Wedding is the prelude to Act 1, a lively and characterful piece which forms a sophisticated tone poem in its own right. The Karelia Suite by Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) takes us into the realms of folk-inspired nationalism at a time when Finland was ruled by Russia. The orchestra plays the Ballade with lovely fine-grained tone, and beautifully controlled phrasing, with a very fine cor anglais solo.

Gediminas Gelgotas (born 1986) is a young Lithuanian composer. His Never Ignore the Cosmic Ocean dates from 2011/12 and Kristjan Järvi and the Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic gave the premiere of the orchestral version in 2012. The piece uses repetition of different motifs to created varied textures, all with a strong rhythmic impetus driving it. The orchestra plays with great incisiveness bringing great clarity to the textures, but the piece makes use of silence too and chanting from the players. For me, it evoked memories of Leonard Bernstein.

The Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten by Arvo Pärt (born 1935) dates from 1977 and uses just a string orchestra and a bell. The performers generate amazing intensity from the simple combination of controlled intersecting long lines, and a tolling bell. This performance is a superb achievement both technically and emotionally.

Imants Kalnins (born 1941), is one of the most important Latvian composers. In addition to a substantial output of classical music, including six symphonies and several operas, he also played in a rock band in the 1960's and is known for his rock songs! His 'Rock' Symphony No.4 dates from 1972 and combines his two genres. The Allegretto from the symphony has a steady, driving rhythm which is almost train-like in its forward impetus. But it is not always loud, and there are delicate moments to, with a wonderfully catchy feel to the melodies.

Moving to Poland, Wojciech Kilar (1923-2013) was classical and film music composer whose film work included Roman Polanski's The Pianist and France Ford Coppola's Dracula. Orawa dates from 1988, written as a concert work for string orchestra it found its way into a number of films. It starts as a quiet repetitions, minimalist style, but builds and develops with changes in texture. The orchestra gives it great rhythmic excitement and makes it a real tour de force, despite my reservations that Kilar stretched his material beyond its natural limit.

The final two works in the programme are better known. Kristjan Järvi and the orchestra make the Sacrificial Dance from Igor Stravinsky's 1913 ballet into brilliant showcase. And this continues with Henk de Flieger's orchestral arrangement of Brunhilde's Immolation Scene from the conclusion of Wagner's Ring Cycle.

This disc is a brilliant showcase for Kristjan Järvi's Baltic Youth Philharmonic and throughout the orchestra plays with a fine combination of technical finesse and emotional depth. The disc showcases a real variety of styles and the young players respond to each of them, bringing a vitality and intensity to the music. I am not quite sure whether the musical programme adds up to more than the sum of its parts, and did not really detect a common Baltic thread running through the works. But as a showcase for a superb ensemble this can't be beaten.

Carl Nielsen - Overture to Maskerade [4.11]
Wilhelm Stenhammar - Malleanspel from Sangen op.44 [5.13]
Edvard Grieg - At the Wedding from Peer Gynt, op.23 [4.56]
Jean Sibelius - Ballade from Karelia Suite [7.06]
Gediminas Gelgotas - Never Ignore the Cosmic Ocean [6.15]
Arvo Pärt - Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten [8.47]
Imants Kalnins - Allegretto from 'Rock' Symphony No. 4 [10.14]
Wojciech Kilar - Orawa [8.42]
Igor Stravinsky - Sacrificial Dance from The Rite of Spring [4.31]
Richard Wagner, arr. Henk de Flieger - Brunhilde's Opfertat from The Ring: An Orchestral Adventure [11.07]
Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic
Kristjan Järvi (conductor)
Recorded at the Historical Technical Museum in Peenemunde, Usedom, Germany, 19-21 September 2014
Naive V5407 1CD [68.02]

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