I’ve mentioned in an earlier review that Silvestrov has been getting
some overdue attention recently, with a number of recordings in
recent years. Here we have another Silvestrov release from ECM
New Series, which have put out several discs of Silvestrov’s work
in the past few years, including a requiem, orchestral music,
and his massive Sixth
Symphony. Since I’ve included biographical details in that
review, I’ll move straight on to the music and the performances.
Post Scriptum, which opens the disc, is unmistakably Silvestrov. Even
with these chamber works one experiences the same sense of great
things looming out of a dense fog. Or, as in the case with
Post Scriptum, a sense of something definite dissolving
into that fog. The piece begins with an innocent and sentimental
theme stated in the violin which forms the basis of the evaporating
variations that follow it in the first movement. The tender
theme returns in the piano and pauses before the violin escalates.
In flashes, there is something almost Mozartean about some of
the writing here, but these are carefully controlled. Indeed,
the liner notes mention that Silvestrov saw Post Scriptum
as a “postscript to Mozart and, in a broader sense, to the
classical period.” The slow central movement is wonderfully
warm and melodic. Of the Silvestrov works I’ve heard, this
is the composer at his most accessible and touching.
Misterioso was written just after the aforementioned Sixth Symphony
and shares its sound, condensed to two instruments. Here, instead
of an orchestra we have the piano providing large chords that
boom and fade as the clarinet adds metallic scrapings and exclamations.
There is no sense of a formal development immediately apparent—the
work has a strange suspended, motionless feel about it, which,
upon listening, is in direct contrast to the amount of effort
the clarinettist must expend, with many variances of timbre
and wide jumps in pitch, all while under utmost control and
often almost exclusively pianissimo.
Spiegel im Spiegel
by Pärt has been rather well-represented with quite a number
of recordings that are readily available. Here, in the arrangement
of the work for Clarinet and Piano, the recording aesthetic
is as good as you’d expect from ECM, with wonderful clarity,
as well as a good sense of the space the piece was performed
in. The piano plays a sweet, repetitive melody as the solo
instrument plays simple scales. The idea behind the piece was,
as Pärt mentioned, to “present constantly changing views of
a single musical object” and it does just that, with the melody
and scalar playing modulating softly throughout. The performance
here is touching and devout.
Two chamber works of
Galina Ustvolskaya, who studied composition under Shostakovich
in the ’forties, close the disc, beginning with one of her earliest
post-graduation pieces, the Trio of 1949. The opening third
of the first movement is devoted to the clarinet and piano,
who talk past each other before the violin bursts in energetically.
Interestingly enough, Shostakovich himself quotes a theme played
by the clarinet in the third movement in his own String Quartet
No. 5 and in his late Michelangelo Suite. At the same time one
can hear the influence of Shostakovich in this trio, one can
also hear a greater underlying sense of detachment which was
to play an important role in Ustvolskaya’s work and in her life.
The scored parts work together, but stand at arm’s length from
each other. An austere and beautiful piece.
The Sonata of
three years later opens with the violin playing a simple two-note
motif that is carried through the piece in a sort of wooden
lockstep. Shostakovich is still here, but also Hindemith, though
Hindemith is rarely this detachedly chill. Again the scored
parts seem to talk past each other. By the end, the piano plays
its cold counterpoint as the pulse of the piece is rapped out
on the body of the violin. A striking and thought-provoking
As with the other discs
I’ve reviewed from ECM New Series, the sound quality and recording
ambience is exemplary, Lubimov, Trostiansky, and Rybakov are spot-on
in their performances of these works.