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The Russian Seasons
Leonid DESYATNIKOV (b.1955) The Russian Seasons for violin solo, soprano solo and string orchestra and dedicated to Alicia Urwiller.
Spring: Dominical, Lullaby, Song for St, Georges’s Day *
Summer: Lament with Cuckoo, Song for Whitsuntide,* Fertilising Song
Autumn: Song for Ember Days *, Autumn Song, Nuptial Song
Winter: Song for Christmastide, Song for Shrovetide, Closing Song *
Alexander RASKATOV (b.1953) The Seasons Digest,
after ‘The Seasons’ op.37a by P. I. Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) for solo violin, strings, percussion and prepared piano. +
January: At the Fireside
February: Carnival
March: Song of the Lark
April: Snowdrop
May: Starlight Nights
June: Barcarole
July: Song of the Reaper
August: The Harvest
September: The Hunt
October: Autumn Song
November: Troika Ride
December: Christmas
Julia Korpacheva, soprano * Andrey Pushkarev, percussion +, Reinut Tepp, piano +,
Kremerata Baltica/Gidon Kremer, solo violin and director.
Recorded in December 2001 at Studio Nalepastrasse, Berlin.
NONESUCH 7559-79803-2 [51.26]

Gidon Kremer writes that the music on this disc has great personal significance for him since he lived in a Soviet country for the first half of his life. The music demonstrates an essential aspect of the Russian character, a dark and cynical humour that can parody established tradition while showing it due respect.

The title, ‘The Russian Seasons’ is significant for Kremer in another sense too. It indicates his preoccupation with something he calls ‘global’ or ‘absolute’ time, by which he seems to mean a sense of time that transcends both centuries and locations, allowing interesting connections to be made between the musics of composers from different eras and different lands.

These notions of ‘Russian-ness’ and ‘absolute time’ allow both an acknowledgement of traditions founded on the past achievements of great artists (Diaghilev’s productions were known as ‘Russian Seasons’ for instance) and also a kind of ‘seasonal’ relationship between musicians of the past and the present. The themes are explored very differently yet equally thoughtfully by both Desyatnikov and Raskatov and each of them pays homage to his chosen aspect of Russian tradition, while exposing it to some level of parody, often gentle but sometimes distinctly fierce. The results are works that are witty, attractive and musically very worthwhile.

Desyatnikov takes authentic recordings and text from the collection called Traditional Music from the Russian Lake District and sets them as four ‘concertos’ each with three ‘movements’ in a form similar to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. His scoring is similar too (string orchestra and solo violin) but Desyatnikov also adds a solo female voice for some numbers since his ‘seasons’ are different to Vivaldi’s. They explore human experiences (love, separation, death and commemoration, for example) while following the quarterly rituals of the Orthodox Church.

In keeping with the idea of ‘seasonal’ relationships between musicians, Desyatnikov has apparently said that one of his other aims when composing The Russian Seasons was to bring together many different compositional styles. These range from ‘almost uncivilised roughness to European elegance’, the melding of which he feels is embodied in the work of Kremer and his orchestra. As a consequence, and although the work is wholly new, its twelve numbers all contain allusions to other composers - those who like musical challenges can amuse themselves by spotting the influences from Steve Reich, Dufay, Berg, Bach, Stravinsky and Pärt which are sprinkled liberally throughout. Desyatnikov has his own style however, and this music is often folksy but it is also wry, tender, tuneful and harmonically interesting at every turn. There’s Russian irony here too: listen to the second piece, Lullaby, before reading the translated text, as an example.

Raskatov’s The Seasons Digest is a different kind of work though concerned with the same preoccupations as Desyatnikov’s. It is a re-working of Tchaikovsky’s piano cycle The Seasons op37a for a string orchestra, violin solo, percussion and prepared piano in a ‘digest’ form which distills the Tchaikovsky tradition nicely, but debunks it soundly too. To do this, opulent string melody is interrupted by the prepared piano and reinterpreted by percussion. Musicians are instructed to ‘roam freely beyond the boundaries of their own parts’ so that string players play percussion instruments sometimes. There are crops of not quite right ‘modern’ harmonies. Everyone whispers the ‘Requiem Aeternam’ in the movement for March and sings during the ‘peasant minimalism’ of July. Some aspects of this cannot be appreciated from a CD of course, but the excellent explanatory sleeve-note by Tatjana Frumkis fills in some of the irony and explains the intention behind what is heard. The old music is always familiar, but never exactly so: it questions how far New Russia has moved from Old Russia and how far such movement is good.

If the music on this disc was of philosophical interest only the disc could not be recommended. However this is one of the most engaging recordings that I have heard for some time. Kremerata Baltica, the various soloists and of course Gidon Kremer himself throw themselves into these intriguing works with great style and if you want to hear something unusual that can bear repeated playings, this disc could be for you.

Bill Kenny

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