Sergei ZHUKOV (b. 1951)
Piano Concerto Silentium (2001) [37:07]
Violin Concerto Angel's Day (2002?) [38:27]
Eleonora Bekova (piano); Elvira Bekova (violin)
Karelia State Symphony Orchestra/Marius Stravinsky
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Konstantin Krimets.
rec. Russian Republic, 2010-11
World premiere recordings

Until now the wider musical world has been familiar with the music of Sergei Zhukov through a Chandos CD (CHAN 9588) which was issued in 1998 as part of their then New Direction series. The disc contains the Concerto Mystery [45:24] and the Concerto Grosso [20:41]. The Residentie Orchestra, The Hague, then extensively used by Chandos, was conducted by George Pehlivanian. You can still track down copies. It may well be that the present Cameo Classics disc will re-ignite sales of that Chandos disc. The other link between that disc and this is the three Bekova sisters who feature in the Concerto Grosso. Again they were a repeated presence in Chandos releases of the late 1990s to mid 2000s.
The Bekova or Nakibekova sisters are Eleonora (piano), Elvira (violin) and Alfia (cello). They are well known for their advanced concert programming but greater familiarity attaches to their Chandos CDs of Martinů piano solos and trios not to mention their Franck and Rachmaninov. There’s also a coolly received Claudio disc. Zhukov has written a concerto for each of the sisters. Here we have the ones for violin and piano. The cello one is to follow - I hope.
What of Zhukov and the music? He has a fairly thorough English language website which is well worth a look. He was born in the Ukraine and studied music locally before moving to the Moscow Conservatory and graduating in 1978. There are six ballets and more than handful of concertos alongside plenty of chamber and vocal music. There are also two symphonies, dating from 1985 and 2009. TV and movie music jostles with a musical (Life of insects, or Deceit and Love) staged in Moscow in 2010 and an oratorio Moments running in succession.
Going by this Cameo disc his music can be both lyrical and strangely avant-garde in a 1960s sense. The two aspects are made to mediate in a most natural and fluent way. There’s something of the ritual and the arcane about these two concertos. Ancient Sorceries is the title of one of Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence stories. That title could equally well have been applied to these two large-scale works except that the pagan, while not absent, makes way for Christian mysteries in the Violin Concerto.
Silentium is in five movements which are contemplative and manic-panic by turns. Impressions come and go: Stravinsky’s Firebird in sinister mode, John Tavener, Scriabin, Bridge’s Phantasm and Oration, Griffes’ Pleasure Dome, Ives’ Unanswered Question and Ireland’s Forgotten Rite and Legend - all of this given a dissonant skew among the New Age devotions. The atmosphere created is potent with strands of incense trailed by a slowly swinging thurible contrasted with the insistent machine-gun rhythmic tattoo of the piano (II: 3.44). In III there’s the glint and shimmer of the tam-tam and some mercilessly jazzy piano syncopation in IV. The soloist intones Mandelstam’s poem ‘Silentium’ in the finale while the guitar adds plangency and colour to the orchestra’s dripping opalescent notes. Something rich and strange indeed, although more pedestrian souls might regard it as hocus-pocus.
The oneiric theme is continued with the Violin Concerto which is in four movements. The character of the music is incantatory but not static. We are in strange realms but ones where the ideas often seem to reference Russian nationalism of the late 19th century. In Morning Touch (I) the violin speaks as a high, thin wail, trembling and distant. Messenger (II) is full of hyper-tense excitement which is, in character, part Midsummer Nights Dream and part chattering freshness from Rachmaninov’s The Bells. In Vespers plangent single rain-drop notes splash down gently. The finale - Nightflight - links to the archingly sanguine melody of Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony and the faery mystery of the same composer’s First Violin Concerto - wonderful fluttering violin at 8:07. Along the way we meet, at 5:35-7:07, a playful Nutcracker flight before the music ascends to the stratosphere amid celesta sparkling and the shimmer of silver chains.
Something out of the ordinary rut. Surreal music that holds the listener.
Rob Barnett
Something out of the ordinary rut. Surreal music that holds the listener.