Tubin’s Kratt highlights a terrific program from Paavo Jarvi

<div>Tubin’s Kratt highlights a terrific program from Paavo Jarvi</div>
This is Paavo Jarvi’s 4th album with the Estonian Festival Orchestra for Alpha Classics, and the highlight is certainly Tubin’s ballet suite, Kratt (Goblin) – which receives headliner status on the front cover. The ballet is based on 30 folk songs and instrumental pieces, which surely affords it its alluring appeal. Its varied sections are enormously characterful and highly descriptive – appropriate for a story which portrays a goblin, created by man, but brought to life by the Devil. Good stuff! The suite is separated into 3 sections, comprised entirely of dances for various characters – goblin, peasant, exorcist, a variety of animals and the northern lights. All of this is brought vividly to life by Paavo Jarvi at his fiery best, and his orchestra responds with exuberance.
This music is so good I only wish Jarvi had recorded the entire ballet. There is so much wonderful music here I long to hear more of it. And I can find only one complete recording of it – from Alba Records, conducted by Arvo Volmer in 2005 – sadly no longer available on CD (although Presto has a digital download of it – sigh). Paavo’s father, Neeme, also recorded just the suite for BIS, way back in 1985; so maybe it’s time for the other Jarvi conductor, Kristjan, to take on the entire work and commit it to record.
After all this devilish (but not terribly sinister) goblin music, the rest of the program – comprised of works just for strings – is much more civilized and tame.

Grazyna Bacewicz’s energetic Concerto for String Orchestra never fails to please. Jarvi makes it even more dramatic and imposing than usual – in part due to the larger, fuller string section than is typically heard as played by a chamber orchestra. Jarvi certainly brings the gusto to the opening movement, where his strings play with impressive vigor. In contrast, the rapturous Andante is radiant as played here by a full, vibrant violin section. And the concluding Vivo is positively furioso! Wow!
If I had reservations at first with the sheer weight of it all (at least compared to how I’m used to hearing it), I was ultimately won over by the sheer brio Jarvi brings to it. 
Tubin’s Music for Strings is not as instantly gratifying as Bacewicz’s, but it is appealing in its way. While it conjures Bartok’s more famous, similarly-titled work, it is smaller-scaled (absent the piano and percussion, of course) but no less intense in its fervor. The opening Moderato is less mysterious than Bartok’s, and less sparsely scored, but is instead rather more serious. The central Allegro is vigorous without being nearly as ferocious as Bartok’s. But it’s the closing Adagio which moved me most – building to an overwhelming climax in the middle, played with enormous intensity by Jarvi’s strings.
It’s interesting that Jarvi concludes the program with Lutoslawski’s grim Funeral Music, written in memory of Bela Bartok. I didn’t care for the piece all that much the first time through and found it peculiar to close a concert with such a downer. But listening to it again on another day, I began to discover its many rewards and acknowledge it’s a wonderful piece of music – despite the placement of it on the CD. 

While it certainly pays homage to Bartok with frequent hints of his Music for Strings Percussion and Celesta, it can’t really compare to the master in creativity. For instance, the opening Prologue begins mysterioso like Bartok’s, but doesn’t develop with the genius of Bartok – musically or with the scoring. However, the Metamorphosis is notable for the exquisiteness of the violin line above the stark and desolate fabric. And oh my goodness, what a magnificent string section this is; Jarvi draws ravishing sound from his violins, superbly captured by the Alpha engineers.
An ugly, discordant Apogeum seems terribly misplaced and unnecessary (but mercifully short), leading into the final Epilogue, which begins with a most impassioned, intensely expressive outpouring played by the entire cello section (which, like the violins earlier, is stunningly played and recorded here). A soundworld similar to the opening Prologue returns, building intensity, before subsiding into a barren, otherworldly atmosphere with sparse textures. And a lone, forlorn cello brings the work to a mystifying conclusion, fading away into nothingness. 

I’ve listened to this piece several times, and the more often I hear it, the more I like it – which, incidentally, is my usual reaction to Lutoslawski. He’s a wonderful composer whose music, for me, requires just a bit of getting to know before fully appreciating.  
Alpha’s production is first class, other than their repeated misspelling Lutoslawski as “Lutoslaswski” – on the album front cover, on the booklet cover, and again on the program listing inside. Curiously, they spell it correctly on the back cover, and the booklet writer gets it right in the text (in all three translations).
That oddity aside, this is an interesting and rewarding program of music, superbly played and recorded, making this a very enjoyable CD. Paavo Jarvi is a wonderful conductor and this is surely one of his best recordings.​

***Update: it appears Alpha has been made aware of their spelling error and may have corrected it on future pressings – although it is wrong on the copy I received just a couple weeks ago. The cover-art picture on Amazon and Presto now either masks the composer’s name altogether, or shows it intact but spelled correctly. Better late than never, Alpha Classics.

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