The Estonian composer Eduard Tubin (1905-82) had not yet moved to Sweden when he composed his Second Symphony, "the Legendary," in 1937. It is divided into three movements, though they follow without pause, and each seems to be underpinned (at least until half-way through the third movement) by an insistent drumbeat -- in the second movement, it is that of a Funeral march, while in the other movements the pace is faster, as of an army rushing to battle on foot. That last image is my response to something relentlessly primitive (hence "legendary," perhaps?) in the character of the music -- lots of dark, low strings and winds, building to powerful climaxes, until the final cataclysm about half-way into the final movement, when all that relentless energy seems to spend itself following an outburst that recalls, at a slower pace, the storm music in Verdi's "Otello" with the whistling strings around the violent rhythmic build-up. Then, surprisingly, for about the last six minutes of the piece, piano, viola, and violin enter and seem to gesture towards something gentler, something full of sorrow and regret, with which the symphony fades away. I don't know that this is great music -- Sibelius and Vaughn Williams, when they express despair, come up with something more varied over the course of 30 minutes -- but Neeme Jarvi and his orchestra play this with total commitment and your attention doesn't wander.
The disc also includes the Sixth Symphony from 1954. Here, for all the strongly accented sections in all three movements, we have something much more celebratory. In the first two movements, we are in the world of Latin-American dance rather than marching. There is a syncopated, almost jazzy feel to some of the writing (a saxophone very much part of the mix in the second movement particularly) and the general sound world is lighter, with higher woodwinds and strings than in the Second Symphony. It can get a bit unrelenting with the strong rhythms (also true of Ravel's "Bolero," come to think of it!), but there is quite a bit of variety in the orchestration, and the whole effect is quite enjoyable. The final movement presents rhythmical variations on a chaconne theme, according to the booklet notes; early in this movement the trombones are given their heard to great effect (the movement is marked "festoso") though at the end, the music fades to a horn motif that leaves an unresolved feeling. All in all an arresting symphony, and as with the Second, Jarvi and his Swedish orchestra present it with great conviction.