Valentin Silvestrov is not just the Ukraine’s most prominent composer but also a major voice in the music of our time: a quiet voice, to be sure, and one that some will pigeon-hole at the soft-core end of the New Spirituality. But even a first encounter should suggest the presence of deeper perspectives, and encounters with the full range of his music only serve to confirm that impression. Russian commentators have long since ranged Silvestrov alongside Schnittke, Gubaidulina and Denisov as one of the most important figures that came to maturity in the 1970s. It was then that he produced music such as the two Cantatas – the earlier one for soprano and chamber orchestra, setting words by Tyuchev and Blok, the later one for a cappella choir to verses by Ukraine’s national poet, Taras Chevchenko. Both works blend Webernian angularity with an ecstatic lyricism.
Alexei Lubimov is a Russian pianist who also plays fortepiano and harpsichord. In his early years he studied at the Moscow Central Music School, and in 1963, entered the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied with Heinrich Neuhaus and Lew Naumov. He developed a strong interest in Baroque music and 20th century modernist works. Lubimov gave the Soviet premieres of many western compositions, including pieces by Charles Ives, Arnold Schoenberg, John Cage, Terry Riley, Pierre Boulez, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, which brought censorship from the Soviet authorities. For a number of years he was prevented from traveling outside the Soviet Union. Turning to his interest in period instruments and authentic performance practices, he founded the Moscow Baroque Quartet and co-founded the Moscow Chamber Academy with Tatiana Grindenko.
The brief opening piece for chorus on this new release, "Da Pacem Domine," is based on a 9th century Gregorian work and has the usual, familiar–and very beautiful–Pärt-ian characteristics: a soft, endless stream of easy tritones and harmonies that make this plea for peace immensely moving. The major work, Lamentate, is scored for large orchestra and solo piano–a very unusual combination for Pärt. Even his fans will be surprised. In ten brief sections, it begins with a quiet drum roll, immediately followed by horn calls. There are forte explosions for full orchestra and piano, with heavy percussion. At times the only thing we hear is a hushed piano part with strings supporting very quietly. The effect is dark yet alluring. It ends peacefully. This is another stunning CD of Pärt's music for his fans–old and new.
The title of ECM's release of works by three composers born in the former Soviet Union perfectly captures the mood of the CD – it is truly mysterious. Although more than half a century separates the first of these pieces from the most recent, they share a sense of otherness that defies easy explanation. The pieces are not so much mysterious in the sense of being eerie (although there are several moments that might raise the hairs on the back of your neck if you were listening alone in the dark); they are unsettling because they raise more questions than they answer.
Comprising three centuries of noted composers' "minor" works, Lubimov's Der Bote (The Messenger) bears out its title with short, introspective pieces that capture thoughts of nostalgia, mourning, and meditation. The first work, C.P.E. Bach's 1787 Fantasy, sounds amazingly avant-garde, full of surprising darts and turns. And the experimental 20th-century composer John Cage's "In a Landscape" is an even bigger surprise. Instead of random keyboard plink-plunks, it's a diaphanous Debussyan tone poem, bound to startle party guests playing Name That Composer… –Dan Davis
For this Alpha-Classics album of modernist music arranged for two pianos, Alexei Lubimov and Slava Poprugin play four essential works that yield some surprises in their keyboard versions. Three of the pieces are transcriptions of instrumental music, specifically Igor Stravinsky's arrangement of his Concerto in E flat major, "Dumbarton Oaks," John Cage's reduction of Erik Satie's Socrate, and Darius Milhaud's four-hand transcription of Satie's Cinéma (composed as a soundtrack for the short Dadaist film Entr'acte, used in the ballet Relâche), with Stravinsky's Concerto for two pianos solo performed as it was originally written.
"This compact disc presents all the studio recordings that remain from a time when, as a twenty-five year old champion of the avant-garde, I had to seek for every possible occasion of playing the new works of our composers. In those days, they were hounded and ripped apart by ideological critics; now they are recognized as the masters of new music. Audiences today need to realize with how much excitement and trust people discovered and took over the new currents seeping in from Europe through the Iron Curtain. These works represent and symbolize a marvelous epoch of friendship, a time when we came to know new horizons and discovered ourselves in the Soviet Union's huge, heterogeneous spaces." (Alexei Lubimov. May 2003)
Debussy is closer to the expressionism of Schoenberg than to the chiselled sonorities of a Chopin or the extravagant virtuosity of a Liszt, even if his refined art can still be seen in the line of tradition of 19th-century music. This is frequently forgotten in the interpretation as well as the assessment of his oeuvre. Debussy himself decried the concept of musical impressionism because he feared, rightly, that superficial refinement would degenerate into musical mist, concealing the subtleties of a new musical idiom and its structural logic. Thus, for example, instead of heading his 24 “Préludes” in two books with programmatic titles in his autograph score, he appended them at the bottom of the individual pieces.