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Alexander WUSTIN (b. 1943)
Memoria 2 (1978)a
Song from Tchevengur (1995)b
Hommage à beethoven (1984)c
Agnus Dei (1993)d
Sine Nomine (2000)e
Mark Pekarski Percussion Ensembleacd; Kiril Umanski (organ)bc; Nikolai Danilin (organ)d;
Armenian Chamber Choir of Moscowb; New Moscow Choir (Elena Rastvorova, conductor)d; Moscow Classical Orchestraabce; Yuri Nikolaevitchabce
Recorded: Mosfilm Studios, Moscow, May 1995 (Agnus Dei) and December 2002
THOROFON CTH 2486 [65:32]


Alexander Wustin belongs to a generation of Russian composers often mentioned as a lost generation. They were all born in the 1940s and began their composing career under the repressive Brezhnev regime. They did not benefit from the so-called ‘thaw’ following Stalin’s death. Their works were banned, cancelled from concert programmes and long left unpublished. In fact, for many long years, these composers were treated as if they did not exist. Wustin’s early works, which he later withdrew, were fairly traditional. As an editor working for Russian radio, Wustin had access to recordings of western modern music, which considerably widened his musical outlook. His music was thus significantly influenced by that of Varèse and Xenakis, which may be found in his lavish use of percussion. (Another important factor, too, in this respect was the existence of Pekarski’s percussion ensemble for whom Schnittke, Gubaidulina, Denisov and several other Russian composers wrote major works.) In most pieces here, the percussion has an important part, particularly so in Memoria 2, Hommage à Beethoven and Agnus Dei as well as in Sine Nomine, his most recent work in this selection.

Memoria 2 is scored for percussion, keyboards and strings. It opens rather mysteriously with trills in the strings punctuated by bells and piano. This short prelude leads into a long central section for percussion alone. This develops roughly as a fugue building-up to a powerful climax at which point the orchestra forcefully re-enters for a brief, sonorous Coda.

Song from "Tchevengur", for men’s voices and small orchestra, sets a short fragment from Platonov’s novel. This important work was written in 1927-1929. Parts were published in the late 1920s, but the whole was available to Russian readers in 1988 only. It seems that this book triggered a Platonov fever among Russian composers (Raskatov, Tarnopolski and Wustin). Wustin’s short piece evokes "the inevitable failure of any utopian vision". It sets a very short fragment, actually a few lines (In a distant land/ on the far shore/what we see in dreams is there/but the enemy holds it). It opens in a dream-like, pastoral mood quietly sustained throughout most of the piece (with telling use of recorders), briefly dispelled when the enemy is mentioned. For all its brevity, this is a poignant, deeply moving work; and one of the finest here.

Hommage à Beethoven ("Concerto for percussion and small orchestra") is roughly cast as a theme and variations on an invented theme à la Beethoven, constantly embellished. The percussion section keeps contradicting the apparent tranquillity of the invented theme which progressively reaches breaking point. At that very moment, the percussion breaks loose in a furious cadenza building-up to a massive climax. This is followed by a restatement "as in a dream" of the Beethoven-like theme (in which the players who can join with their humming the tune); but it soon disintegrates into riot and is eventually drowned by the percussion. This piece is the only in this selection of Wustin’s output that is somewhat reminiscent of Schnittke and his so-called polystylism.

Agnus Dei is scored for chorus, percussion and organ. It opens calmly, constantly opposing long notes on the words Agnus Dei and shorter, staccato-like notes on Qui tollis peccata mundi. After the introduction, a new section begins in which the percussion plays a prominent part. The plea for mercy becomes more urgent, and the words then are declaimed rather than sung. The music gathers momentum until the organ enters on soft, long-held notes. In the coda Christe eleison/Dona nobis pacem, the words are "tonelessly" enunciated by the voices, while the conductor supplies a rhythmic support on wooden claves.

The very title of Sine Nomine emphasises the abstract nature of the work, that the composer once described as a kind of one-movement symphony in four sections played without a break. In the opening section, static string textures support widely separated interjections from woodwinds and brass. This leads into the second section characterised by "statuesque brass chords" over nervous scales from strings and woodwinds developing into some sort of funeral march. There is then an abrupt change of mood in the string-dominated third section, actually a fleeting, mysterious Scherzo. The fourth section begins with a varied restatement of some of the opening material. The mood becomes more restless (again scurrying strings to the fore) and the section builds-up to a massive climax abruptly cut short allowing the percussion to fade out quietly.

Wustin’s music was entirely new to me. Listening to these highly personal, often gripping woks made a deep impression of earnestness, honesty and sincerity which I find most endearing. This is more than once music of protest, often rather pessimistic or bleak, but quite impressive in its own way. All performances are very fine indeed, the recorded sound is quite good and Michael Struck-Schloen’s notes are well informed, detailed and illuminating (I have borrowed much from them). A most welcome and commendable release.

Hubert Culot

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