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Valentin Vassilievitch SILVESTROV (b. 1937)
Monodia for piano and symphony orchestra (1965) [20:34]
Symphony No. 4 for strings and brass (1976) [28:14]
Postludium - Symphonic Poem for piano and orchestra (1984) [17:37]
Ivan Sokolov (piano)
Ural PO/Andrej Borejko
rec. Yekaterinenburg Philharmonia, 1992. DDD
Silvestrov Orchestral Works - vol. 1
MEGADISC MDC 7837 [66:25]

In 1958 Silvestrov abandoned a course in construction engineering to enrol in music training in Kiev with Lev Revutsky and Boris Lyatoshinsky. He soon courted and achieved disapproval for his interest in Stockhausen and would have attended Darmstadt but for the State's refusal of a travel permit. He was at various times roundly condemned as a member of the avant-garde Kiev group.

His three movement Monodia forms part of the evidence. Here is a most atmospherically recorded work for piano and orchestra in wisps and flying shrapnel of musical ideas, little dissonances, squeaks and squeals, shards of fanfares and pointillist gestures. While the first movement might sometimes remind us of Frank Bridge's Phantasm, the second and third hum, bark, growl, chime and chitter with the paraphernalia of modernism, all expertly and transparently disintegrated, fragmented and orchestrated.

Ten years on and for all the glamour of the kaleidoscopic atomised writing Silvestrov turned, in his Fourth Symphony, to long slow-singing lines and a tortured yearning and tender Bergian lyricism. Listen to the violin and viola carol-dialogues at 8:47 and 17:20 - Finzi through a darkling glass. This is not the last time we hear such music from Silvestrov. Siroccos of anxiety suddenly scud and gallop through the strings at 12:10 - there is hysteria in the air. Braying trombones recall similar gestural writing in Shostakovich 15. Twisting motifs rise and wheel into dissonant majesty (20:00). The symphony is in a single movement of about half an hour's length. There are no woodwind in the orchestra; only strings and brass.

Eight years later and the Postludium is redolent of the glorious melody-saturated Fifth Symphony. The piano acts as orator amid a grandly luxuriant aural landscape which slowly heaves and stretches. Honeyed and starry Mahlerian writing for violins is studded with brass interjections. Romantic, hesitant and then confidently striking, sentimental melody rises to the fore at 6:50 and 12:07. There are echoes of Debussy here with touching tender intimations and the outline of birdcalls melting at the end into a Bergian moonlit miasma.

These are meticulously prepared and fascinating performances. The recordings glow and turn in a sustained Delian sunset. Especially the latter two pieces reminded me of the recent works of David Matthews.

Rob Barnett


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