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Valentin SILVESTROV (b. 1937)
Metamusik (1992)
Postludium (1984)
Alexei Lubimov (piano)
Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien/Dennis Russell Davies
Recorded: ORF Studio, Vienna, April 2001
ECM NEW SERIES 1790 (472 081-2) [67:38]

Silvestrov has long been obsessed by the idea of postlude. "Everything we wish to say is an echo, an allusion, a postlude to something that has already been said at some time". These words, presumably by the composer, printed in Tatjana Frumkis’s essay printed in the accompanying booklet, sum it all up perfectly well. Indeed, Silvestrov composed three chamber works sharing that title, and this set of Postludes may be performed either as a whole or separately: Postludium DSCH for soprano, violin, cello and piano (1981), Postlude for solo violin (1981) and Postlude for cello and piano (1982). Silvestrov composed a Violin Sonata titled Post Scriptum in 1990-1991 which also relates to the same concept.

Postludium ("Symphonic poem for piano and orchestra") completed in 1984 partakes of the same idea. Postludium and the somewhat later Metamusik share many similarities but the most striking difference is that Metamusik is twice as long as Postludium. Structurally, the two pieces have much in common: both are for piano and orchestra, both open with a powerful ‘Big Bang’ and both include slower sections glancing back at Romantic music, albeit through allusions rather than mere quotations. One might even be tempted to consider Postludium as a try-out for the later, larger work. The earlier work, in spite of its relative brevity, is magnificently accomplished, fully standing on its own musical merits. It is a compact, tightly knit and – on the whole – perfectly balanced piece of music. As already mentioned, it opens with an arresting orchestral gesture and the ensuing music is imbued with doom-laden urgency. The music is more overtly dramatic and straight-to-the-point than in Metamusik which explores its material on a much longer time span. The music quietly dissolves in a tender, dream-like coda. No wonder that this piece has been recorded on several occasions. I can think of – at least – three other recordings of it : one was – and may still be – available on a rare Russian disc which I remember having seen in a record shop in Brussels, whereas two fairly recent recordings are still available (on Sony as a ‘fill-up’ to the large-scale Fifth Symphony and on Megadisc MDC 7837).

Metamusik, too, opens with a mighty wave of sounds washing everything aside. This is followed by a cadenza introducing a more troubled, menacing section punctuated by massive chords and angry interjections from the orchestra. This sombre, ominous mood is sustained at quite a length in ebbing waves. The tense mood of the music then relaxes in a musing episode in which the piano spins soft, bell-like figurations and arpeggios. At about 10’20’’ (track 1), the music looks back in a Rachmaninov-like meditation, which – curiously enough – superficially recalls Richard Rodney Bennett’s romantic film scores. This is followed by a long questing episode more or less mirroring the opening bars of the work. At about twenty minutes in, the Romantic music is resumed with a deeper sense of loss (or regret?) signalling the beginning of what is actually the work’s long-drawn coda concluding in an ethereal mood. Metamusik is a major work, although not an easy one; and certainly one that does not easily yield all its secrets. Silvestrov’s music is not difficult to listen to; the difficulty is rather to see through or between the notes, as Alexei Lubimov rightly remarks in his short essay printed in the booklet.

Silvestrov is an important composer whose music has been fairly well served so far, as far as commercial recordings are concerned, although some of the symphonies are still unrecorded at the time of writing. He has also found a number of wonderful performers wholly dedicated to his music (Lubimov also has recorded Silvestrov’s Piano Sonatas and Cello Sonata – the latter with Ivan Monighetti – for Erato several years ago). All concerned here play with convincing commitment. These superb performances, recorded under the composer’s supervision, are self-commending. Another magnificent release from ECM. I now wish that ECM could go on recording more of Silvestrov’s music. A recording of the Third Symphony Eschatophonie is now long overdue.

Hubert Culot

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