Henri Lazarof is a little known name in the UK although
unfortunately the rather sketchy biographical notes provided within
the booklet accompanying this disc fail to provide us with any great
degree of enlightenment. Fortunately the programme notes on the works
themselves are considerably more detailed. What we do know is that Lazarof
was educated in Europe and the United States and has developed a parallel
career as composer and teacher, having spent a number of years lecturing
at the University of California, Los Angeles where at the time of production
of this disc (1989) he was a professor when this was the first disc
solely devoted to his music,
Despite his relative obscurity in this country (it
should be said however that there has been a past commission for the
London Sinfonietta) his work has been widely performed in the United
States and an impressive list of commissions includes works for the
Berlin Philharmonic together with numerous top-flight American ensembles.
The four works presented here were written within seven
years of each other and to a large degree share the same sound world,
rhythmically complex, harmonically terse, even violent at times, yet
capable of aching lyricism, tenderness and rich emotional intensity.
In many ways all of the works are constructed on the basis of contrast,
rhythmic, textural and dynamic but bound together largely by motif.
Lazarof is masterful in unifying his material through melodic and harmonic
inter-relationship, creating strongly argued structures that whilst
freely chromatic and atonal, clearly show the listener the way. Indeed
he is not afraid to use literal repetition where the music justifies
it, this being taken to the extreme in his Serenade for String Sextet,
where a brief thirty-second interlude is repeated twice between the
other three movements.
The Lyric Suite for Solo Violin of 1983 is no
less concentrated in its structure despite the limitations of a solo
instrument, a work that in many ways I found to be more rewarding than
its more substantial partners. Cast in seven continuous but clearly
defined sections the piece exploits to virtuosic effect the technical
capabilities of the instrument, which are despatched with great confidence
by the dedicatee Yukiko Kamei. Again, contrasts abound yet there is
a strong gestural structure at play coupled with a vein of lyricism
entirely befitting of the work’s title.
The String Quartet and Octet for Strings
of 1980 and 1985 respectively display many of the same characteristics,
above all strong motivic argument, particularly appropriate in the Octet,
which carries the subtitle "La Laurenziana" after the
Laurentian Library in Florence, and in particular the classical perfection
of the Michelangelo attributed staircase at its entrance.
That this is music of integrity and passionate commitment
is rarely in doubt. Lazarof is clearly at home with strings and his
writing for the instruments is never less than technically commanding.
The feeling of structural unity he achieves in his work is equally impressive
as is the emotional intensity of his inspiration. The performers give
committed readings of the works with Yukiko Kamei being worthy of particular
praise. I am perhaps less convinced of the originality of Lazarof’s
compositional voice and in this respect only time will tell whether
the music can attain any significant degree of longevity.