Friday 27 February 2015

A captivating disc of works by Valentin Silvestrov on a new release from Wergo that reveal this composer’s fine ear for detail, colour and texture with an underlying melodic core

Valentin Silvestrov (b.1937) was born in Kiev, Ukraine.  He came to music relatively late and was initially self-taught. After taking evening classes in music he went on to study composition with Boris Lyatoshinsky and counterpoint with Lev Revutsky at Kiev Conservatory. Silvestrov taught at a music studio for several years and has been a freelance composer in Kiev since 1970.

Considered one of the leading representatives of the Kiev avant-garde of the 1960s, his music, criticized by the conservative Soviet musical establishment, was hardly played in his native city, any premiere being given in Russia or the West.

Spectrums for chamber orchestra was premiered to spectacular acclaim by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Igor Blashkov in 1965. In 1968 the same conductor gave the premiere of the Second Symphony.

It is these two works coupled with his Cantata for soprano and chamber orchestra, Meditation: Symphony for Cello and Orchestra and Welt, leb wohl…! that are gathered together on a new disc from Wergo with performers that include Leningrad chamber ensembles and conductor Igor Blashkov with recordings made between 1965 and 1991. 

WER 6731 2

For a long time Silvestrov’s works were at least heard on the periphery of the official music scene but the situation gradually changed with Silvestrov's growing international acclaim with a Las Vegas performance of Postludium for piano and orchestra (1985) and the symphony Exegi monumentum (1988) as well as a 50th Birthday Concert in New York (1988). Silvestrov became a visiting composer at the Almeida Music Festival in London (1989), Gidon Kremer's Lockenhaus Festival in Austria (1990), and various festivals in Denmark, Finland, and Holland.

Since then Silvestrov's music has been heard more widely. There has even been a 60th Birthday Festival in Kiev followed by a conference devoted to Silvestrov held at the Tchaikovsky National Academy of Music of the Ukraine. In recent decades he has dispensed with the conventional compositional devices of the avant-garde and discovered a style comparable to western "post-modernism." The name he has given to this style is ‘metamusic’, a shortened form of ‘metaphorical music.’ His compositions to date include choral and vocal works, seven symphonies, chamber and instrumental works.

Spectrums: Symphony in Three Movements for Chamber Orchestra (1965) is performed here by soloists of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Igor Blashkov recorded live in Academic Chapel, Leningrad in 1965 and appears to be the premiere performance that received much acclaim. In three parts, percussion lead in Part 1 with a seemingly fragmented theme that develops with a myriad of instrumental colours, creating a captivating sound world.

Percussion open Part 2 with more fine colours and textures to which other instruments add further effect, at times quite dramatic though with quieter moments that suddenly contrast with dynamic outbursts, whip cracks and timpani. There is very effective, subtle use of strings before the music builds to a sustained peak then dies away with timpani rolls.

There is a gentler opening to Part 3 with lovely, subtle percussion sounds and some more intense string and brass passages. Silvestrov draws on some very fine percussive sounds that often seem to sparkle above the contrasting textures of the rest of the ensemble, rising to many vividly coloured moments. The music slows and quietens as strange harmonies and string sounds with tubular bells lead to the hushed coda – but with a final decisive bell chime.

The live recording is clear and atmospheric and quite vivid at times, though with some rustlings of audience noise and a slightly narrow stereo image.

The Leningrad Chamber Orchestra conducted by Igor Blashkov perform Silvestrov’s
Symphony No. 2 for flute, percussion instruments, piano and strings (1965) in another live recording this time in the Grand Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonia in 1968.

Strings open with little percussion points and a flute motif that intersperses. Indeed the little flute motif seems to permeate this music, which has many fine textures and ideas that continually add colour and interest. There is much of Silvestrov’s early distinctive character, a myriad of instrumental sounds finely woven into the orchestral tapestry with sudden little outbursts. Silvestrov slowly builds his material with the flute continuing to provide a musical motif that binds the music together.  Within its outwardly fragmented nature, this music has an inner melodic element and structure. There are some fine little string passages with the percussion adding colour and textures with the strings often reflecting the flute’s motif. Towards the end there are some magical sounds from the percussion, strings and flute before leading to the coda.

In this work Silvestrov brings a cohesion as well as fine colours and textures and a melodic core to his avant-garde style. The live recording has a greater warmth without sacrificing any detail and with no obvious audience noise.

Silvestrov’s Cantata for soprano and chamber orchestra after poems by Fyodor Tyutchev and Alexander Blok (1973) brings the Perpetuum Mobile Chamber Orchestra with soprano Nelly Lee. The Andante: Fyodor Tyutchev ‘Just as the ocean cradles our earth’s orb’ opens with strings and flute before soprano Nelly Lee soon appears, serving to re-inforce Silvestrov’s underlying melodic strain in this impressive setting of Fyodor Tyutchev’s poem. Silvestrov finds much atmosphere in this poet’s vision with Nelly Lee proving to be a very fine soloist. There is a lovely gentle pulse to the writing as it makes its way to the still, gentle coda; a captivating piece that leads straight into the second movement.

The music picks up a little, rhythmically, in Animato: Alexander Blok ‘Over the swampy, empty meadow…’  where Silvestrov’s arrangement of his orchestration around the soloist is expertly done, thoroughly complimenting the soprano and adding to the text with subtle little points of sound. Lee’s feel for the text is wonderful.  

We go quickly into the purely instrumental third movement Andante that picks up wonderfully on the atmosphere of the preceding sections with a subtle forward pulse and some extremely fine orchestral writing, quite beautiful, percussion still subtly present creating the most lovely of sounds as the music leads quietly to the hushed coda.

In this cantata Silvestrov had developed an even finer integration of melody with his earlier style. The 1983 studio recording is excellent.

The performance of Meditation: Symphony for Cello and Orchestra (1972), the longest work here, comes from a live concert at the Lysenko Hall of Columns, State Philharmonic, Kiev, Ukraine in 1976 with the Kiev Chamber Orchestra and cellist Valentin Potapov.  Delicate percussion lead in before woodwind soon join, the brass giving a forward pulse. When the cello enters, it forms very much part of the orchestral texture, combining with the short phrases of the various instruments of the orchestra. There are lovely woodwind contributions with little melodic fragments appearing. A harpsichord is heard adding a little theme as the cello continues to provide distinctive textures that add a real depth to the instrumental texture. Soon the woodwind bring a lovely little melody, a descending theme, amidst the orchestral texture.  A little orchestral melody appears as Silvestrov provides distinctive little pulses of energy that continue to push the music forward.

The baroque style harpsichord tune is heard again contrasting with the cello and orchestra and there are a myriad of little motifs, sounds and themes appearing out of the tapestry. A sustained cello melody arrives, soon accompanied by a small string ensemble as the theme increases in agitation, out of which rise some attractive woodwind motifs. The music develops through some quite beautiful instrumental textures and flourishes with the harpsichord appearing again with its little baroque tune against strange sounds from the cello. Eventually the orchestra rises up with the cello; tubular bells sound before a flute theme appears over the cello and orchestra. Before the end the cello brings a long breathed melody over a quiet orchestra and tubular bells. The music becomes ever quieter, Silvestrov providing a lovely hushed tapestry of orchestral sound against which the cello, bells and harpsichord slowly play. A flute note appears and reoccurs in this lovely, long drawn coda with the harpsichord having the last word on a single note.

There is some audience noise in this live recording but not intrusive and of excellent quality overall.

Finally we have Silvestrov’s ‘Welt, leb wohl…!’ ‘Farewell, O World...!’ after the verses from the poem ‘A Dream’ by Taras Shevchenko from the vocal cycle ‘Silent Songs’ (No.5) for baritone and piano (1974-77) arranged and orchestrated for baritone and chamber orchestra by Igor Blazhkov (1991).

In this first rate 1991 studio recording from the Large Hall of Sound Recording Studios, Kiev, Ukraine, baritone Yuri Olijnik joins a chamber ensemble for this beautiful work where melody is to the fore. Olijnik brings a fine baritone voice with a distinctively written orchestral part making this a fine conclusion to a captivating disc.

This is beautifully constructed music with Valentin Silvestrov showing his fine ear for detail, colour, texture and with a subtle momentum and an underlying melodic core.

There are useful, informative booklet notes but unfortunately no texts.

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