Valentin SILVESTROV (b.1937)
Symphony No.4 in one movement for brass instruments and strings (1976) [25:20]
Symphony No.5 in one movement (1980-82) [40:47]
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Jukka-Pekka Saraste
rec. January and August 2008, Sibelius Hall, Lahti, Finland. DDD
BIS-CD-1703 [67:02]

Even when gaunt the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov demands a voluptuous immersion of orchestral sound. In the case of this typically impressive Bis disc we are confronted by two imposing single movement symphonies. In that simple structural sense Silvestrov recalls Allan Pettersson yet Silvestrov’s music is more varied and incident packed.

The Fourth Symphony is both anxious and sweetly luminous – almost Tallis-like in the modal sense (8:38). Short note-cells shiver with urgency and forward momentum but the ascendancy rests with moans, rumbles and idyllic wisps of melody. These dominate the last five minutes of the piece in something approaching a synthesis of sighing and confiding Pettersson and Berg. The piece describes a long slow arc from quiet into silence. David Fanning in his insightful liner-note refers to parallels in the Fifth Symphony with Scriabin’s unfinished Mysterium (Ashkenazy and Kondrashin) and late Tippett in the shape of the Fourth Symphony. For my part I would make connections with the central movement of two other very late Tippett pieces: the Triple Concerto and Rose Lake. Delicate textures are juxtaposed with brutal roars – or more accurately preludes to a roar. The sweetly rounded massed and solo violin writing takes us, with a deep-grounded dignity, into realms that seem to reference John Barry’s and Bernard Herrmann’s most romantic scores, the lushest of versions of Mahler’s Adagietto and the high keening melody at the close of Allan Pettersson’s magnificent Seventh Symphony. It’s a long sustained vision of concentrated beauty and gently caressed and completely unhurried adoration. The lofted and winged violin flight glides rather than dives and soars. At 19:00 nightmare visions disturb the idyll with grippingly mordant and sour interjections from the brass and steely percussion. The piece ends like an impossibly extended exhalation amid a bejewelled aura of peace and limitless beauty.

There are alternatives for these symphonies but not on one disc. The Fifth was recorded on Megadisc by Andrei Borejko at 45:49 and on BMG by Roman Kofman in 1986 in Kiev at 46:52. It was recorded in 1995 by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and David Robertson on Sony (46:54). Borejko and Megadisc have also tackled the Fourth. Saraste does not seem at all quick despite taking between five and six minutes less than the competition. Pushed to a choice I do prefer the more extended way adopted by the other three conductors.

Silvestrov was a pupil in Kiev Conservatoire between 1958 and 1964. His teachers included Boris Lyatoshinsky whose orchestral music has been recorded on disc (Russian Disc and CPO) and the rather old-fashioned but still interesting Lev Revutsky. Revutsky’s two symphonies were recorded in LP days but regrettably have not been issued on CD or taken into the studio for new minted recordings.

These are two astonishing symphonies where the composer spins the most diaphanous silky veils into two symphonic structures. The Fifth is a remarkable, transcendental and moving work. It is well worth your meditation and contemplation.

Rob Barnett

Two astonishing symphonies. Diaphanously silky symphonic structures. Remarkable and moving. Well worth your meditation and contemplation.