Tuesday 19 March 2013

Naxos releases World Premiere Recordings of attractive works by Ivan Karabits, in performances that are authoritative and commanding

Most people will be aware of the name Kirill Karabits www.kirillkarabits.com/welcome.html as the young, dynamic, Ukrainian Principal Conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Few people, I suspect, will have heard of his father, the composer and conductor Ivan Fedorovych Karabits (1945- 2002).

He was born in Yalta, in southern Ukraine, and graduated from the Kiev Conservatory in 1971 having studied with Boris Lyatoshinsky (1895-1968) and Myroslav Skoryk (b.1938). He conducted the Dance Ensemble of the Kiev Military District and the Kiev Camerata, taught at the Kiev Conservatory and was a People's Artist of Ukraine.

Ivan Karabits’ music followed the tradition of Mahler and Shostakovich as well as that of Ukrainian folk music. His works include three symphonies, three piano concertos, three concertos for orchestra, chamber music, piano works and vocal works, as well as film music. He died in Kiev, aged 57.
A new release from Naxos www.naxos.com features Ivan Karabits’ three concertos for orchestra together with two short works by his fellow countryman Valentin Silvestrov www.schott-music.com/shop/persons/az/51048  with Kirill Karabits www.kirillkarabits.com/welcome.html conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra www.bsolive.com

Karabits’ Concerto for Orchestra No. 1 (1980-81) is in two movements and opens with a grand maestoso for full orchestra with tubular bells sounding out. The music falls quieter as the theme is shared between various parts of the orchestra, first woodwind, followed by strings and then brass adding to the texture. After some lovely woodwind arabesques, the music rises to a romantic sounding orchestral passage, interspersed with brass and percussion that leads to a climax, cut off to harp and celeste. Violins quietly give an impassioned theme with tubular bells adding atmosphere, before the strings quietly speed up as the music leads into the second movement presto.

The music becomes more frantic as woodwind and brass enter in a riotous section, followed by a rising woodwind motif signalling a quiet interlude. As the orchestra moves along quickly, there are some louder outbursts, percussion playing an important role. There are rapidly changing moods as music quietens to a lovely flute and harp passage with strings and woodwind arabesques, somewhat reminiscent of Rautavaara.  The music moves to a livelier section with timpani and rapidly moving strings and brass with great forward momentum. Bells peel as the music slows slightly with brass interjections before a section for drums and brass with orchestra leads forward to what seems to be a loud conclusion, before suddenly falling to a hush with the music petering out quietly.

The allegro of the three movement Concerto for Orchestra No. 2 (1986) opens excitingly with the orchestra in full flight before subsiding to strings, scurrying ahead in this frantic music, pointed up by xylophone.  The music slows to a longer breathed section where strings, shift around tonally. Before long the opening tempo returns complete with xylophone. When the music slows again it becomes more light-hearted, moving around the orchestra in attractive little phrases. Again the opening tempo returns, scurrying along, before a brief, rather romantic section with woodwind and strings. The opening tempo returns yet again before the movement ends quietly.

The andante molto expressivo opens with bells and side drums leading quickly into a crash of percussion. As the tumult dies, a rippling harp plays against a lovely little tune on the piccolo, with a solo cello occasionally joining in. Then a harpsichord strums some chords whilst a clarinet plays a melody, the orchestra then joining in this slow, gently flowing, beautiful melody. A harpsichord and bass clarinet intone the tune before strings signal a more agitated section, with side drums that leads to the last movement moderato that begins with an orchestral outburst.

The music soon quietens with rapid piano notes against a little flute motif before violins and pizzicato lower strings enter. The strings come together in a more expressive theme leading to full orchestra as the tune is given to different instruments in a section full of action.  Timpani herald a light hearted passage for harpsichord, celeste, then flute, before a jazzy violin makes an appearance. The harpsichord returns with brass featuring prominently before the xylophone and timpani enter. There is even clapping from orchestra members as drums are played. The theme is thrown around the orchestra until quietening with strings and xylophone. Drums lead to a hushed section before a last outburst of the main theme. This is a thoroughly entertaining and at times beautiful piece.

In his Concerto for Orchestra No. 3 (1989) Karabits returns to the two movement format of his first concerto with a largo rubato opening with what must be the unique sound of ‘little bells woven into tresses of hair’, something conceived by the composer with help from the then thirteen year old Kirill, and symbolising ‘the voices that we hear from the past.’ Eventually a horn joins with a little tune before a cello enters. All is hushed with strange noises appearing, including natural harmonics on the upper strings and a rustling sound made by the brass players blowing into their instruments without any pitch.  When the strings enter there is a rich, if slightly tragic sound, moving the music forward as full orchestra and timpani appear. As the orchestra quietens there is a lovely clarinet solo. There are so many things going on in this amazing, constantly changing music. When a romantic melody emerges it rises to a climax before the haunting sound of the flexatone sounds out, followed by timpani leading to the second movement.

The allegro commences quietly at first but almost immediately a melody on strings emerges with woodwind and timpani interspersions, before the full orchestra in a dramatic section. Eventually the music drops to a brass passage with tubular bells joining in. As the orchestra leads on there are sections for woodwind, before brass, and strings join. Percussion have a prominent role as the orchestra slowly shifts along followed by a passage for brass and timpani as the music becomes increasingly agitated. As the music peaks and subsides, there is a brass motif against the orchestra. The music quietens with the hushed sound of the little bells again. The piano enters alone except for hushed bells in a rhapsodic theme. As the lower strings enter, tubular bells chime, the rustling sound from the brass players enters and there are humming voices as a flute plays a folksy little tune in a feeling of utmost sadness. A solo violin enters in this magical moment that just fades with upward piano phrases.

Valentin Vasylyovych Silvestrov (b. 1937) www.schott-music.com/shop/persons/az/51048 was born in Kiev, Ukraine.  Silvestrov began private music lessons at age of fifteen and later studied piano at the Kiev Evening Music School from 1955 to 1958. From 1958–1964 he studied composition under Boris Lyatoshinsky (1895-1968) and harmony and counterpoint under Levko Revutsky (1889-1977) at the Kiev Conservatory.

His works to date include eight symphonies, works for violin and orchestra and piano and orchestra, chamber works including two string quartets and vocal works. After his early avant-garde style of composition he later discovered a style comparable to western "post-modernism."

After the early death of his friend Ivan Karabits, Silvestrov borrowed the sketches Karabits had made for a work that would have set the texts of the eighteenth century philosopher Grigory Skovorda (1722-1794). From this he wrote Elegy (2002) using his own and Karabits’ ideas. It is dedicated to Karabits’ widow, the musicologist Marianna Kopystia.

The work is introduced with a hesitant string motif, full of sorrow and melancholy. The music hints at a sad theme but seems only to be able deliver short phrases that nevertheless are very affecting, perhaps because of their very reticence.

Silvestrov’s Abschiedsserenade 2003 for string orchestra is dedicated to the memory of Ivan Karabits and was first performed on 3rd October 2003. In two movements, the adagio opens with a descending phrase that is then developed. Again there is a reticence here, as if unable to fully express such deep feelings. The second movement marked moderato, follows without a break with a lovely melody that, at last, is able to appear, a wistful little tune with harp accompaniment and a pulse that is reminiscent of adagietto from Mahler’s fifth symphony.

The works on this new disc, three of which are billed as World Premiere Recordings, are extremely attractive in performances that, as you would expect, are authoritative and commanding. The recording from the Lighthouse, Poole is excellent as are Andrew Burns’ notes.

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