> An introduction to Dmitri Smirnov [HC]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Dmitri SMIRNOV (born 1948)
Elegy for Cello Op.97a (1997)
Piano Sonata No.4 Op.124 (2000)
Violin Sonata No.3 Op.109 (1998)
Piano Trio No.1 Op.23 (1977)
Cello Sonata Op.25 (1978)
Postlude for Violin Op.112 (1998)
Patricia Kopatchinskaya (violin); Alexander Ivashkin (cello); Ivan Sokolov (piano)
Recorded: Moscow Radio House, August 2001
MEGADISC MDC 7818 [70:57]



Dmitri Smirnov has a considerable body of works in almost every genre to his credit, including a great number of chamber works of which the present release offers a generous selection from both ends of his composing career to this day.

The Piano Trio No.1 Op.23 from 1977 is the earliest piece here. It is in three movements said to symbolise the three major stages of life: Origin and birth (at first hesitant, the music progressively gains some considerable momentum), active life (a rather nervous and lively Scherzo) and old age and death (an elegiac, sometimes bitter-sweet movement with a faint echo of the Dies Irae).

The single movement Cello Sonata Op.25 was composed in 1978. It is a fairly concise piece of some substance that sets out to "explore the extension of dodecaphony" (Frans Lemaire) in adding quarter tones to its vocabulary; but the music nevertheless retains its melodic character which seems to be a Smirnov trademark.

Smirnov studied with Edison Denisov. He was thus deeply affected by Denisovís death in 1996 and composed his Elegy in memory of Edison Denisov Op.97a in 1997. This piece exists in two versions : Op.97a heard here is for solo cello and three crystal glasses and Op.97b is for sixteen instruments. The piece is a deeply felt elegy of great expressive power, At the very end the notes E-D-S (= E flat) are eerily spelled out by the crystal glasses, either hit or bowed, providing for an appeased, ethereal coda to this sometimes impassioned, often moving piece.

The Violin Sonata No.3 "Es ist..." Op.109 was composed in memory of Oleg Firsov, Elena Firsovaís father and Smirnovís father-in-law. Again, this mostly elegiac work is in three movements, i.e. a short nervous Scherzo framed by two substantial slow movements. The subtitle Es ist... is taken from Bachís chorale Es ist genug of which the first notes introduce each slow movement.

Smirnov completed his Postlude in memory Alfred Schnittke Op.112 in 1998 after attending Schnittkeís funeral in Moscow. The thematic material is based on musical monograms, not only that of Schnittke, but also of many composers who were Ė or might have been Ė important for Schnittke, a.o. Shostakovich (DSCH), Berg, Bartók, Mahler and many others. The Postlude Op.112 has much in common with the Elegy Op.97a, besides being also written for a stringed instrument. It obviously inhabits the same emotional world. The Postlude Op.112 is thus for solo violin and plays for a little over eleven minutes, but the track goes on for another eight minutes with a piano piece which is later vocally announced by Smirnov as being a performance of the Piano Sonata No.4 Op.124 played by its dedicatee, Alissa Firsova, the composerís daughter. Very interesting indeed to have thus two performances of this piece, but then, why not an extra track?

The most recent piece here is the concise Piano Sonata No.4 "String of Destiny" Op.124 composed as recently as 2000 for Smirnovís daughter who has already played it repeatedly. By comparison with the other pieces in this selection, and for obvious reasons, this is a sunnier, livelier work in a youthfully light-hearted vein. This should become a highly popular work.

Though clearly rooted in some late 20th Century tradition, Smirnovís often impassioned music always aims at direct communication, no matter how technically complex or sophisticated it may be. Most pieces here are generally elegiac in mood; but the music, rich in contrasts and often rising to forceful climaxes, never unduly or morbidly lingers.

This superbly played, well recorded and well produced release offers a quite attractive introduction to Smirnovís personal sound world, and is warmly recommended. I now hope that some of Smirnovís orchestral music will soon be recorded.

Hubert Culot


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