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.
Since 2001, ECM has enthusiastically championed the art of Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov with recordings of his orchestral, chamber and vocal works – creations that stand as some of the most arresting and moving in contemporary music. This continues in Silvestrov’s 75th birthday year with “Sacred Songs”, the seventh album ECM has devoted wholly to the composer’s music; it collects sets of songs, refrains, psalms and prayers composed from 2006 to 2008 that reflect the composer’s late-blooming interest in writing for a cappella voices, which led previously to the ECM releases “Requiem for Larissa” and “Sacred Works”.
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.