Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov (b.1937) is an important contemporary voice in vocal music. In this new release, Silvestrov’s hauntingly beautiful vocal works are performed by the Latvian Radio Choir under their director Sigvards Kļava. During his artistic career, Silvestrov has explored a number of musical styles and techniques, such as avant-guard, post-modernism, neo-classicism, dodecaphony, aleatoric writing and pointillism. The fall of the Soviet Union, however, allowed Silvestrov to eventually compose spiritual works, inspired and influenced by his love of the Russian Orthodox Church music which Silvestrov imbues with his own unique sound and bursts of surprising harmonic moves. Silvestrov’s compositions are invested with the composer’s own unique personality, musical sensibility and sense of beauty.
Silvestrov wrote the pieces recorded here, scored for piano solo, string orchestra, and piano and strings, between 1996 and 2005, and they are all representative of his late, meditative, song-like style. After an early career as an experimentalist, Silvestrov embraced the radical simplicity – a style of tonal, melodic, and rhythmic transparency – that has won him many admirers in the general public, but little recognition by the academic community. It would be easy to hear his music as derivative, given the limited tonal palette to which he restricts himself; his apparently naïve and artless approach, however, has an integrity and a genuinely lyrical impulse that make it hard to dismiss.
Piano music is central to Valentin Silvestrov’s output. With its frequent allusions to lingering recollections of the past, this programme presents an overview of various creative periods. It begins with the composer’s reworkings of youthful sketches (Naive Musik), followed by Der Bote (The Messenger) with its beautiful Mozartian theme leading into a sonatina in the style of the 18th century. After recent works from Silvestrov’s self–defined ‘Bagatelle’ period, the recording concludes with the striking Kitschmusik, which engages with the music of Schumann, Chopin and Brahms. The Two Waltzes are dedicated to Elisaveta Blumina.
Swiss pianist Ingrid Karlen makes her ECM debut with Variations, of which the program is as provocative as the title is vague. Beyond variations in the traditional sense, these are, rather, mise-en-abymes of abstractions. Or so they might at first aural glance seem, for within these sometimes troubling clusters of false starts breathes a unity at once organic and contrived. Anton Webern’s Variations for Piano, op. 27 (1935/36) is the primary example, for the only variations they seem to engender stem from that which cannot be notated. These pieces behave as might a solo violin sonata, jumping fluidly and bow-like through their ephemeral 12-tone links. They are the anti-motif, a stretch of childhood unable to be sifted.
Valentin Silvestrov is hardly a household name in the United States; however, in the Ukraine, he enjoys a similar standing to that of his Estonian counterpart Arvo Pärt. But that is where the resemblance ends. Whereas Pärt in his holy minimalism reinvents techniques that derive from Renaissance practice, Silvestrov's roots are planted in late Romanticism. His music is steeped in all of the emotion and drama that such a stylistic association would imply. Leggiero, pesante is a collection of Silvestrov's chamber music, and as an introduction to the musical world of Silvestrov, this ECM New Series release admirably fits the bill. Most impressive are the performances of the Sonata for violoncello and piano (1983) and the third Postludium by cellist Anja Lechner and pianist Silke Avenhaus. In these works, Silvestrov strives toward a synthetic union between the two instruments. Lechner and Avenhaus achieve this end spectacularly well and manage to blanket the performances in an emotional sensitivity that gives voice to Silvestrov's intentions, yet retains the personality of the performers.
The music of Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov is a unique and delicate tapestry of dramatic and emotional textures, that freely alludes to the entire history of music. "I do not write new music. My music is a response to and an echo of what already exists," Silvestrov has said. Beginning his creative career in the radical Soviet Avant-Garde, Silvestrov demonstrated an almost painful sensitivity to the intimacy that music can create between performer and listener. Silvestrov would later refute his modernist roots, saying “the most important lesson of the Avant-Garde is to be free of all conceived ideas, particularly those of the Avant-Garde” and began composing a series of works entitled “Postludium” that initiated the elegiac, poetic and highly personal relationship with silence which has come to characterize his most recent music. Haenssler Classic is proud to present pianist Jenny Lin in the World Premiere Recording of Silvestrov’s “Three Postludes”, a work composed especially for her.
Valentin Silvestrov composed Requiem for Larissa between 1997 and 1999 as a memorial to his wife, musicologist Larissa Bondarenko, who died in 1996. It is a big and unceasingly somber work, scored for chorus and orchestra. Understandably, this Requiem is to a degree reflective, incorporating musical themes drawn from older works that had special meaning to the couple. While Silvestrov's typically glacial tempos are in evidence here, some of the opening half of the piece has an angular spikiness that recalls serial techniques without actively engaging in them. Instrumentally, Requiem for Larissa is dark, atmospheric, and even a little cinematic; the choral parts are sparse and minimally applied. In the fourth-movement Largo, the voices take over and settle down into an ethereal texture that leavens the gloom somewhat, but by this time 25-and-a-half minutes have gone by and some listeners will have already tuned out owing to the toughness of the opening section.Requiem for Larissa is an intensely personal piece performed with respect and care by the Ukrainian National Chorus and Symphony Orchestra under conductor Vladimir Sirenko.
World première recordings of works by John Tavener, Arvo Pärt, Valentin Silvestrov and Alexander Knaifel sit alongside pieces by Henryk Górecki and John Cage on the first recording from a new Irish label operated by noted concert promoters Louth Contemporary Music Society (LCMS). All of these very popular contemporary composers have in various ways been deeply influenced by profound spiritual, religious or cultural encounters, and the disc celebrates them in a moving, magical programme. A Place Between intersperses - to wonderful effect - beautiful works for string quartet (Silvestrov's meditative Ikon, Tavener's deeply moving Ikon of Joy/Sorrow, Pärt's reflective Da Pacem Domine) with two solo piano works (Pärt's uplifting Hymn to a Great City, and Cage’s melodic and expressive In a Landscape). Górecki's memorial for Michael Vyner, Good Night and Knaifel’s mystical O Heavenly King both feature the haunting voice of soprano Patricia Rozario. Silvestrov's 25.X.1893 lullaby is a melancholic and lyrical piece for violin and piano.