Friday 24 July 2015

Boris Pigovat’s Holocaust Requiem proves to be a magnificent work of depth and high emotion in a new performance on Naxos by violist Anna Serova with the Croation Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nicola Guerini

Boris Pigovat (b.1953) was born in Odessa in the USSR where he studied at the Gnessin Music Institute (Academia of Music) in Moscow. In1988 he won the special distinction diploma  at  the  International  Composers’ Competition   in Budapest  for his composition Musica dolorosa No. 2 for Trombone Quartet

He immigrated to Israel in 1990 where, in 1995, he was awarded the Prize of ACUM (Israeli ASCAP) for his composition Holocaust Requiem. In 2000 he was awarded the prize of Prime Minister of State of Israel and, in 2002, received his Ph.D. degree from Bar-Ilan University, Israel.

Many of his works have been performed throughout the world.  His composition Massada was performed at ISCM World music days 2000 festival in Luxembourg and at WASBE 2003 Conference in Jonkoping, Sweden.  His symphonic picture Wind of Yemen was performed at the Asian Music Festival 2003 in Tokyo and at WASBE 2009 Conference in Cincinnati (USA). Three of his pieces, Prayer, Song of the Sea and Voices of Jerusalem, were performed in New York’s Carnegie Hall.  His work Music of Sorrow and Hope (2011) was commissioned and premiered by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta at the IPO's 75th Anniversary Festival.

The world premiere of the Holocaust Requiem for Viola & Symphony Orchestra   took place at the Memorial evening dedicated to the Babiy Yar tragedy in Kiev, Ukraine in October 2001. In 2008 this work was performed in Wellington, New Zealand at the Concert of Remembrance 70th Anniversary of Kristallnacht 

His work Poem of Dawn for Viola & Symphony Orchestra was premiered by Anna Serova and Zagreb-HRT Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nicola Guerini at Il Settembre dell'Accademia 2013, Teatro Filarmonico di Verona.      

It is the Holocaust Requiem and Poem of Dawn that have been recorded by Nicola Guerini  and the Croation Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra  with violist Anna Serova for Naxos. The recording of Poem of Dawn is a world premiere recording.

Boris Pigovat decided against his original idea of having a soloist, chorus, speaker, and orchestra in his Holocaust Requiem (1994-95) preferring to allow a simplicity and directness with a solo viola providing a ‘human voice.’

Requiem aeternam unfolds beautifully with clarinet and low strings before rising through the strings. This is an impressive opening. The viola enters taking the theme, soloist Anna Serova bringing a lovely tone and fine timbres. The orchestra re-join adding a darkness and uncertainty. A harp gently supports the viola theme before fuller strings enter, the viola bringing some most eloquent moments, the human voice of this tragic music. The music moves through moments of hushed calm before the tempo picks up, pointed up by piano and percussion. The viola becomes agitated as the orchestra leads to a full, rich dramatic passage with anguished phrases from the viola. The orchestra reaches a peak with impassioned phrases before timpani strokes herald the solo viola in a quieter passage. The orchestra re-joins to bring the tragic feel of the opening.

Incisive chords from the higher strings open the Dies irae in a rising motif soon joined by the whole orchestra as brass churn out the Dies Irae with drum strokes and timpani. All quietens to a wistful passage as the viola joins with a quiet, rather tentative motif before becoming increasingly anguished as the orchestra rises ever upward, the Dies Irae plainchant is still hinted at. The music adopts a rhythmic stance with percussion before dropping to a slow hesitant passage. There are some fine moments from the viola in this strident anguished music.

Soon the orchestra hammers out the theme before leading on with a tormented, anguished viola part. The orchestra heads insistently forward occasionally falling back only to rise ever more violently forward. This is music of some violence and impact. The piano joins with percussion to lead the music ahead with an almost manic stance. There are discordant phrases as the music reaches a pitch. Timpani sound out over the orchestra as the pitch is held by high strings and brass. Low strings then chunter forward until falling into silence, leaving just a piccolo with a lovely little motif to quietly end with hushed rustling strings.

A gong sounds to herald a discordant Lacrimosa with a repeated motif from the viola, like a cry of anguish. There is some simply outstanding playing from Anna Serova in this extended, cadenza like passage. Timpani sound but the solo viola continues, though now mournful and quieter. As the viola slowly leads on timpani quietly and gently accompany. There is a crash of gongs that brings a momentary rise in passion but the viola continues quietly as the gong and cymbal crashes die away. The strings now enter with a most affecting melody, slow, quiet and reserved and gently holding a melancholy reserve.

A lone trombone brings the Lux aeterna. The orchestra soon join keeping the melancholy atmosphere. There is a gentle rise in passion but the restrained feel is still maintained. The viola eventually joins and tries to add a degree of passion, picked up by the orchestra. However the music soon drops to a hush. There are further attempts to rise in passion but the melancholy calm is held. Later there is a particularly beautiful passage as well as a lovely flute solo. The viola leads to a hushed section with celeste before entering upon a quiet and gentle solo passage, joined by the orchestra as the coda arrives.

This is a magnificent work of depth and high emotion that is immensely rewarding.

Poem of Dawn (2010) was written for and dedicated to the violist Anna Serova. The celeste opens with a little motif before strings and viola enter, the viola bringing a fine melody. Together with the orchestra a fine flowing, undulating melody is developed, Serova bringing a lovely rich tone. There are hushed harmonics from the viola before the music picks up in dynamics with moments of fine instrumental detail, especially for woodwind and brass, woven into the orchestration. There are some particularly beautiful moments when the sound billows up in the orchestra in this unashamedly romantic score.  Eventually the music reaches a fine romantic climax in the orchestra as dawn arrives. The viola returns as the music falls back in a beautifully orchestrated, hushed passage. As the music slowly moves forward, there is some particularly fine writing for the viola before a beautifully hushed coda with celeste, viola and orchestra.  

Pigovat is a remarkably fine orchestrator. Poem of Dawn makes a fine contrast to the melancholy, passion and tragedy of the Requiem. Nevertheless it is the very fine Holocaust Requiem that I will return to most often. Anna Serova proves to be a first class soloist with the Croatian Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra under Nicola Guerini turning in first class performances.

The recording is excellent and there are authoritative and informative booklet notes from the composer.

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