Born in Leningrad in
1961, Igor Raykhelson studied as a pianist
before moving to New York in 1979. He
has pursued a varied and successful
career as a concert pianist, playing
both jazz and classical repertoire.
This is the first in a series of discs
of his compositions, many of which were
inspired by violist Yuri Bashmet.
His style, as one would
perhaps expect, is a combination of
gritty Russian modernism, tempered with
American charm. There are resonances
of Schnittke and Shostakovich, but with
a strong jazz element. He states in
the sleeve-notes that melody is his
main focus, and there is certainly a
sense of that in his music.
The Little Symphony
is a four movement work and essentially
a classical piece. It is lightweight;
emotionally touching but refreshing.
I particularly liked the harmonies of
the introduction of the fourth movement.
It has a jovial feel and could easily
have been written for a film. There
are some wonderful quotations in the
finale which add a further hint of amusement.
for violin, viola and strings, has an
introspective opening, with the solo
lines in conversation, supported by
string orchestra. There are some beautiful
moments, well played. A tango takes
over, and once again it is easy to imagine
a film score. There are some quotes
- I spotted some Schubert - and a resonance
with Schnittke in the writing of the
solo lines. At the point where the repetitive
(although charming) bass line started
to become too much, the mood returned
to that of the beginning.
The Adagio for
viola and strings is a beautiful work,
with a strong sense of emotion. Bashmet
plays with richness of tone and musical
elegance. Raykhelson’s harmonic language
combines the world of film - the opening
bars could easily have come from a John
Williams soundtrack - with more complex
modernism and a hint of jazz. The opening
phrase is transposed and repeated over
different harmonic contexts to feel
constantly different, and once again,
a waltz theme takes over for a brief
moment, which is angular and poised.
This is a short movement, which repeats
the opening motif at the end.
The remaining work
on the disc is the seven movement jazz
suite. The opening piano solo, performed
here by the composer, is a welcome change
from the by now slightly saccharine
string sound of the rest of the disc.
Although still essentially ‘crossover’,
the jazz influence of Raykhelson’s style
takes over here, with some lovely turns
of phrase and stylistic elements. The
musical movement is perhaps a little
disjunct here; there are well-executed
but all too brief interludes in the
first movement for different solo instruments,
almost giving the impression of looking
through different windows and catching
a glimpse of what is going on inside.
The second movement is an extended solo
for saxophone and is ‘proper’ jazz -
although I wonder how much of an improvisational
element there is here. This fades out
to an interruption by the piano, strings
and drums, again feeling as if another
work has taken over. The third movement,
Take Three, is an easy-listening
waltz which feels more successful, and
would work well on its own. Obviously
inspired by Dave Brubeck’s Take Five,
the highlight of this movement, for
me, was the double bass solo [2:40].
The fourth movement brings to mind Shostakovich,
particularly in its opening solo. The
fifth movement, Swing, is altogether
freer and is closer to a jazz standard
than classical; this is another successful
movement which flows well. The following
Consolation is a complete contrast,
back to the classical string orchestra
world, with a hint of jazz still present.
The final movement is the most extended
of the set, and has its own energy.
The solo instruments (double bass, saxophone,
viola and piano) are each given opportunities
to shine and carry the momentum throughout
the movement. The playing is consistently
good and suits the music.
This was an interesting
disc, with some lovely moments. As a
self-confessed contemporary music junkie,
my tastes are perhaps a little too ‘hardcore’
to make me fall in love with this music,
but it is nevertheless worthy of exploration.