Saturday 21 June 2014

Two very fine concertos by Ukrainian composer, Sergei Zhukov in excellent performances from Eleonora Bekova and Elvira Bekova on a new release from Cameo Classics

The composer, Sergei Zhukov  was born in 1951 in Zhitomir, Ukraine. He graduated from the Zhitomir Music College in 1973 before moving to Moscow, graduating from the Moscow Conservatory in 1978. He went on to complete a post-graduate degree in composition in 1980, studying with Professor Mikhail Chulaki. While still a student, he received a special prize from the Union of Composers, for his work, Dramatic Triptych (1978).

Zhukov has participated actively in new music festivals throughout his career, particularly in Russia, but also in such festivals as the International Podium Festivals (Prague), the Charles Ives Festival (USA), the Week van de Heden Musiek (Belgium). Many of his works since 1980 have been premiered at the Moscow Autumn Festival.

With his interest in the deep processes of our spiritual life, Zhukov has become fascinated by esoteric teachings about the ways in which humanity has acquired moral and emotional experience.

Sergey Zhukov’s compositions include a large catalogue of chamber, choral, orchestral, and theatrical works. He has written four ballets: Insomnia, staged in Bolshoi Theatre of Russia in 1999; Fatum, staged in 2001 in Maly Opera and Ballet Theatre in St. Petersburg; Solaris (1990) and Scarlet Floret (2007) staged in Dnepropetrovsk (Ukraine) Opera and Ballet Theatre. 

Zhukov has placed particular emphasis on the genre of the concerto including his Concerto for Orchestra and Percussion (1990), Concerto-Partes (1992) for string orchestra, Concerto-Sacra (1997) for piano trio and strings. But the most significant in his creativity is the macro-cycle of four instrumental concertos: Silentium (2001), for piano and orchestra; Gesthemania Night (2003) for electric cello, mixed chorus, six horns, trio percussions and prepared piano; Angel’s Day (2004) for violin and orchestra and Concerto-Mystery (1994) for violin, cello, piano and orchestra.

It is Silentium (2001), for piano and orchestra and Angel’s Day (2004) for violin and orchestra that are featured on a new release from the enterprising Cameo Classics label


Written for the soloist on this recording, Eleonora Bekova Piano Concerto ‘Silentium’ explores the relationship between sound and silence. Marius Stravinsky conducts the Karelia State Symphony Orchestra

There is a short period of silence in the opening of Part I before the piano picks out a motif against a hushed orchestra. This is soon slowly developed with the piano phrases becoming occasionally dramatic. It is this juxtaposition of silence against piano motifs that encapsulates this music. Halfway through, the orchestra develops a more melodic theme for woodwind before the piano re-enters in cascading, falling phrases imitated by the orchestra. The music eventually quietens though retaining a dramatic underlying tension. Dancing, staccato phrases for the piano are developed against a brittle orchestra before quietening and fading to silence. A languid theme for piano and orchestra with chiming bells brings Part I to an end.

Part II opens with a rapid, insistent toccata theme for piano against a percussive orchestral accompaniment. The music builds slowly to a dramatic explosion from the orchestra. The bells return before the music disintegrates, leading to an incisive string passage, set against timpani that builds insistently to a climax. Eventually the music opens out to a more expansive piano theme joined by the orchestra in the same expansive theme. The music quietens to a hush but the orchestra throws out two loud outbursts before the piano leads to a hushed conclusion.

Part III has a quiet and gentle ascending theme for the piano before a vibraphone and other percussion join in this atmospheric, hauntingly strange movement. As the piano slowly moves the music forward, strange orchestral sounds are heard in the background before leading to a climax after which the piano gives a descending cascade of notes. A hushed section, where the piano picks out a theme against odd little orchestral interventions, leads to a quiet coda.

Part IV has a short orchestral opening before the piano arrives with motoric rhythms constantly repeated. Soon a jazz like theme appears over a percussive orchestral sound. Suddenly there are piano and orchestral outbursts against moments of silence leading to disjointed phrases for piano over a dramatic orchestral accompaniment. The piano continues to dance around the keyboard set against dramatic orchestral outbursts before a climax is reached bringing staccato orchestral and piano phrases. Soon the jazz element returns as the piano hurtles forward with the orchestra ever faster before a sudden silence with only hushed, tinkling orchestral sounds.

Broad piano chords open Part V before the pianist recites the texts by the Jewish poet, Osip Mandelstam over the beautiful, languid piano and orchestral melody. The piano and orchestra fade to silence to end.

This is a striking and often beautiful concerto brilliantly played by Eleonora Bekova, who is able to move from hushed delicate playing to the most virtuosic piano passages with ease, ably supported by Marius Stravinsky and the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra.

Violin Concerto ‘Angels Day’ was written for the violinist on this recording, Elvira Bekova  and reflects Zhukov’s portrait of both the Angel and the performer. This live recording features Konstantin Krimets conducting the Moscow state Symphony Orchestra

Timpani underline a brooding orchestral opening of the first movement, Morning Touch, with the solo violin appearing at its extreme, highest register, creating an un-earthly sound. The orchestra rises up in swathes of sound, surely one of the strangest and most beautiful of openings. Soon the violin develops a theme against a delicate orchestral accompaniment, slowly rising in drama. The music descends to a quiet shimmering section for violin and orchestra, where Zhukov is quite magical in his orchestration. A celeste plays a little tune against a hushed solo violin, again high in its register, as the movement concludes.

A little ringing bell opens Messenger before the violin enters in a skittish motif. The orchestra joins as the violin speeds, in this fleet footed scherzo, full of fantasy and wit. The music is in the form of a moto-perpetuo in its insistent yet entertaining way. Eventually a broader orchestral section appears before the solo violin joins, playing a rather acerbic theme. Soon the moto-perpetuo returns hurtling the music to a plateau with some beautifully translucent orchestral writing in which the soloist joins.  The music slowly quietens and fades.

Vespers opens with a hushed orchestra over which there are drips or points of sound given by various percussion instruments. This dark, mysterious adagio is brilliantly conceived. As the orchestra fades to silence the solo violin enters with a descending scale, the orchestra joins and repeats the scale into the depths. The violin brings a lovely melody underlaid by a hushed, mysterious orchestral background. Elvira Bekova is superb, the way she brings such a lovely tone and an anguished feel to her timbre. Slowly the music builds in tension and drama as the orchestra, after a bell chime, becomes increasingly dynamic leading to a sudden climax with the powerful orchestra almost engulfing the soloist who, nevertheless, weaves a rising and falling theme through the orchestra that eventually collapses to leave the soloist and hovering strings. A skittish descending motif for violin is repeated against an atmospheric orchestral sound, with celeste and bell chimes, leading to a hushed coda. This is music that sticks in the mind.

A descending theme over a tolling pulse from the orchestra opens the fourth and final movement, Night Flight, effectively the scherzo with allusions to Glinka, Prokofiev and Schoenberg. There is soon an outburst, with bells, before the soloist enters, slowly building the rapid theme with an orchestra full of texture. The music lightens as it moves forward, the violin now playing a real melody. This is a real treat with Bekova creating a real tapestry of sounds. Schoenberg appears, then Glinka before the music rises to a fine climax, full of brass and a theme from Prokofiev’s seventh symphony makes an appearance. The music falls to a hush, in a gorgeous section for soloist and orchestra, with celeste and bells and the soloist high in her register fading into silence.

This is an exquisite conclusion to a very fine work.

There is always a lyrical, tonal core to Zhukov’s music. He is a composer that we need to hear more of. The two soloists are first rate and are very ably supported by Marius Stravinsky and Konstantin Krimets with their two respective orchestras.

The recordings are very good though, in the violin concerto, the soloist is rather closely miked and there is the odd cough from the audience.

There are useful booklet notes.

Cameo Classics should be congratulated for enabling us to hear these two fine works. Lovers of contemporary Russian music should snap this disc up.

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