Asked to curate a festival concert, some composers could be forgiven for programming one of their own works. Not Erkki-Sven Tüür. Putting together this evening's chamber recital, Tüür's starting point was Korngold's luscious String Sextet, having heard it in Heimbach a few years ago. Composed in 1916, it's in true fin de siècle Viennese style – a far cry from the terse Berg and Webern works from three years earlier that Tüür chose to open his programme. Sibelius offered an unlikely Viennese connection with a chamber version of En Saga, composed whilst studying in Vienna in the early 1890s.

Florian Donderer leads Korngold's String Sextet © Kaupo Kikkas
Florian Donderer leads Korngold's String Sextet
© Kaupo Kikkas

Alban Berg and Anton Webern joined Arnold Schoenberg in the gradual shift away from tonality in the early decades of the 20th century. Opening a recital with Berg's Four Pieces for clarinet and piano and Webern's Six Bagatelles for string quartet is a calculated gamble – ten acerbic hors d'oeuvres swallowed down in the time it takes to ask 'Where have all the canapés gone?” and which can leave little aftertaste. Matt Hunt wove his way through Berg's knotty miniatures with gnarly intensity and fierce flutter-tonguing, full of terrific dynamic variation. Webern's Bagatelles befit the title: fragmentary wisps which flit and flicker, as fleeting as idle thoughts. Only one of the half dozen lasts over a minute. The string quartet assembled here played them with all the delicacy required, as if posing questions or riddles that are unanswerable.

Rie Koyama (bassoon) and Matt Hunt (clarinet) play Ligeti © Kaupo Kikkas
Rie Koyama (bassoon) and Matt Hunt (clarinet) play Ligeti
© Kaupo Kikkas

György Ligeti's Bagatelles are more readily understood, earthy utterances peppered with wit. The Hungarian fled to Vienna in 1956, but these six nuggets for wind quintet – taken from his cycle for piano, Musica ricercata – were arranged in 1953. The five players clearly relished the pungent flavours – particularly bassoonist Rie Koyama – and there was no shortage of musical chuckles. Oboist Riivo Kallasmaa, weaving his body like a snake charmer at one point, offered plangent tone, while flautist Michel Moragues swiftly swapped to piccolo at one point to deliver piercing cackles. Björn Olsson delivered the French horn's Gershwin sign-off with a tongue-in-cheek smile.

Sibelius' En Saga didn't quite come off. The work's Viennese origins aren't entirely clear. It seems the composer originally intended it as either a septet or octet before it then transformed into an orchestral tone poem in 1893, revised – and tightened up – in 1902. Nothing remains of the chamber version of the score, but in 2003 Gregory Barrett restored the first version for septet – flute, clarinet, string quartet and double bass – which Tüür programmed here. Whilst it was interesting to hear, it didn't convince. One inevitably misses certain colours (an oboe in particular) and with seemingly none of the players willing to take the lead, the work's energy sagged in the middle. A conductor – even for a septet – was needed to pull this off.

Andres Kaljuste (viola) and Theodor Sink (cello) play Korngold © Kaupo Kikkas
Andres Kaljuste (viola) and Theodor Sink (cello) play Korngold
© Kaupo Kikkas

Korngold's String Sextet in D major filled the second half of the programme, and the hall was immediately awash with a Klimtian glow, led by Florian Donderer's golden tone, Andres Kaljuste's buttery viola and Georgi Anichenko's silky cello. The Adagio was like a sigh for a lost world – or a world about to be lost – while the Intermezzo offered veiled glimpses of Viennese ballrooms. The Presto finale was energetically dispatched, vigorous yet playful, scampering to its upbeat close.


Mark's press trip to Estonia was funded by Red House Productions

***11