RAID:  Symphony No. 1 in C Minor.  ELLER:  Elegia for Harp and Strings.  Five Pieces for String Orchestra.  Dawn (Tone Poem).
Scottish National  Orch/Neeme Jrvi, cond.

Chandos 8525 (F) (DDD)  TT:  75:18

This CD -- issued well more than a decade ago --  would be easy for collectors to miss -- and they shouldn't as it contains a major symphony that deserves to be heard.  This is the Symphony No. 1 by Estonian composer Kaljo Raid (pronounced ray-eed), born in 1922 in Tallinn, capitol of Estonia.  He was just seventeen when Stalin incorporated Estonia and other Baltic States into the Soviet Union and  fled to Sweden in 1944,  studying philosophy and theology at Stockholm University.  After the war he emigrated to the United States, took a degree in Divinity in 1951 all the while studying with Ibert and Milhaud before settling in Canada where since 1954 he has been  a Baptist priest.

Notes with this CD say virtually nothing about Raid's Symphony No. 1 except that it was composed in 1944 when he was studying with his countryman Heino Eller, whose music is also included on this CD.  The thirty-eight-minute symphony  is a study in  intensity and power as well as mystery and beauty.  A sense of occasion is ever-present.  You may hear traces of Janacek, Scriabin, Hanson and Prokofiev.   Breaking the sombre general atmosphere are a few reflective, soul-searching moments of  sad beauty.  The funereal first movement reaches a majestic conclusion, followed by a scintillating scherzo which, in spite of its light-hearted mood, still has an underlying sense of tragedy.  It is in the third movement that Raid shows his true individuality.  It opens with a stirring nationalistic-sounding theme.  Towards the end there is a stunning climax for massed brass followed by a triumphant, grandiose conclusion recalling earlier episodes of the work, with the symphony ending quietly.  It would seem there might be a programmatic concept to this symphony; it's unfortunate more wasn't said about it in the CD booklet.

The focus on this CD is music of Heino Eller (1887-1970) who has been called "the father of modern Estonian music" although relatively unknown outside his native country.  He studied in St. Petersburg, both law and music graduating in 1920 and for two decades taught at the Higher School of Music in Tartu after which he became professor of composition at Tallinn Conservatory, where his pupils included Eduard Tubin (the best-known Estonian composer), Kaljo Raid and Arvo Prt. His works include three symphonies, five string quartets, four piano sonatas and many smaller works for solo piano.  His 1931 Elegia for Harp and Strings is strangely titled as the harp part is minimal.  Five Pieces for String Orchestra dating from 1953 actually are orchestrations of earlier piano works, displaying a cool, Nordic approach.  His Romantic style is evident in the eight-minute early tone poem Dawn dating from 1918.    However, prime interest on this CD surely  is Raid's symphony.

Jrvi, an Estonian, obviously loves this music, and the Scottish Orchestra play it magnificently.  Chandos' sound is quite reverberant and bright, but satisfactory.  Highly recommended.

R.E.B. (July 2003)