Anatol VIERU (1926-1998)
Volume 1
Symphony No. 6, Op. 112 Exodus (1988/89) [58:52]
Memorial, Op. 118 (1990) [17:08]
Romanian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Horia Andreescu (Exodus)
Romanian Radio Chamber Orchestra/Ludovic Bács
rec. 1995-1999, Radio România
First recordings

Volume 2
Écran, Op. 56 (1969-70) [09:57](1)*
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, No. 1, Op. 29 (1962) [14:06] (2)
Sonnenuhr, Op. 52 (1968-69) [12:55] (3)*
Jocuri for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 36 (1963) [16:44] (4)
Ode au Silence, Symphony No. 1, Op. 47 (1967) [17:24] (5)
Vladimir Orloff (cello) (2); Remus Manoleanu (piano) (4)
L'Orchestre philharmonique de l'ORTF/Bruno Maderna (1); Corneliu Dumbrăveanu (5); Orchestra Filarmonicii "Georges Enescu" din Bucuresti/Zubin Mehta (2); SWF-Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden/Ernest Bour (3); Orchestra Filarmonicii din Cluj-Napoca/Emil Simon(4)
rec. 1964-1971, Radio România
First recordings*

It was the Oleg Kagan/Natalia Gutman 1980 recording of Anatol Vieru’s Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra (OCD 409) that first introduced me to the music of this Romanian-Jewish composer. The other work on that now deleted Olympia CD is the equally compelling Fifth Symphony, a score that employs a chorus. As Vieru recordings are thin on the ground, and what there is has probably been deleted, these two recently released volumes of orchestral music, emanating from the Munich-based label Troubadisc are, for me, like manna from heaven. For those not familiar with him, he was born on 8 June 1926 in Iaşi, and studied composition with Aram Khachaturian at the Moscow Conservatory. His compositional oeuvre consists of three operas, seven symphonies, eight string quartets, chamber works and numerous concertos. He remained in Romania for most of his life, and died on 15 October 1998 in Bucharest.

These recordings, several of which can claim ‘world premiere’ status, were made courtesy of Radio România. Those on the first volume date from the mid to late 1990s, whilst those on volume 2 were taped much earlier: 1964-1971. Audio quality is not a problem; in fact I found the entire selection perfectly agreeable, taking into account their diverse provenance. I presume many, if not all, were recorded live — the booklet isn’t specific on this — and audience presence can be registered occasionally during the more quiet sections by the occasional bronchial contribution.

The first volume consists of two works, the most substantial being the four movement Symphony No. 6, Op. 112 Exodus. Dedicated to Gennady Rozhdestvensky, it was composed just prior to the fall of the Ceaușescu regime, and draws its influence from that time in Romania’s history. Vieru explains how the title came about: ‘ exodus was taking place around me, a mental exodus for some, a real, physical exodus for others........exodus seems to be the emblem of this turbulent century’. In the first movement Tangochaccona, I detect echoes of Shostakovich. The opening seems like the exodus has begun in the music's determined tread. Yet there’s optimism, with maybe an end in view. The second movement is titled Exodus and, at twenty minutes duration, is the longest of the four. It begins dark and sombre, but gradually degenerates into something more sinister with what sounds like the horns mimicking whale-song. San Antonio de la Florida depicts the frescoes of the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya in a Madrid church. The composer had viewed them a year prior to the symphony’s composition. Brass and percussion have a prominent role, and the church bells help set the scene. Pale Sun which ends the work is announced on the solo trumpet. A quiet movement throughout, the birds sing and there’s a general calm feeling of pondering and reflection. Vieru made the comment that it ‘... offers relief, a wisp of hope’. The companion work is Memorial, Op. 118, composed in 1990 and premiered in Israel in 1991. Dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust, the underlying tenor is one of desolation and alienation. Both are world premiere recordings.

Écran (Screen) Op. 56, which opens volume 2, here receives its premiere in 1971 at the eighth Festival de Royan under the Italian conductor and composer Bruno Maderna. It’s described in the accompanying notes as a ‘fantastic pandemonium of sound’ and it paints a surreal soundscape. Vieru’s imaginative scoring utilizes an electric guitar, wind machine, siren and bird whistles. Glissandos and microtones are thrown into the mix, and what emerges is a vibrant potpourri of sound, declaiming a world of contradictions that cannot be resolved. Composed more or less contemporaneously in 1968-9, Sonnenuhr, (Sundial) Op. 52 was a commission from South-West German Broadcasting for the Donaueschingen Festival. It too receives its premiere here. The music presents a bizarre aural experience. For much of the time, a sustained chord, described as a ‘discrete sonic continuum’, gives the impression of time standing still. Towards the end, as the music dies away to nothing, harsh penetrating dissonances suddenly interject. Birdsong also makes an appearance at some point along the way.

International recognition came to Vieru in 1962 when his Concerto for cello and orchestra, No. 1, Op. 29 clinched him the Prix Reine Marie-José in Geneva. In three movements, although here tracked as one, the first is spiky and angular and sounds quite neo-classical, with the cello entering the fray from the outset. The slow movement etches a wilderness of icy desolation, through which the lonely cello wanders. Vieru employs harmonics to add to the glacial atmosphere. Oriental melodies and Rumanian folk dances are incorporated into the finale, where we also encounter unusual cello effects. Listen to the bowing very close to the bridge which achieves some startling effects. I have an alternative performance of this concerto, again with Vladimir Orloff on a 3 CD set issued by Doremi (DHR-7711/3). It’s conducted by Mircea Cristescu, and is credited as the world premiere. It also dates from 1962, as does this performance with Mehta. Comparing the two side by side, the only difference is that in the Doremi airing the solo cello is slightly recessed. Jocuri (Games), Op. 36 was written a year later in 1963. It’s more upbeat than the other works on the disc, with Vieru injecting wit, humour and even sarcasm into the composition. It shows that despite all the problems which confronted the composer in his native country, one can still have fun. In all but name it’s a piano concerto, consisting of a set of variations on a nursery rhyme. Remus Manoleanu’s alert and stylish playing is a winning element.

Ode au Silence, Symphony No. 1, Op. 47 is deeply troubled, and opens with an earth-shattering chord. It reflects the tragic events of Vieru’s early life, when he and members of his family survived the massacre of the Jewish population in Iaşi in the summer of 1941; some 13,000 perished. Anguish and dread inform the trajectory, the composer struggling to make sense of his predicament. It’s quite discordant, dissonant and percussive, and Vieru’s favoured birds, make an appearance.

There’s no doubting that this is challenging music, audacious and, at times, venturing into unchartered waters. For the more adventurous who want to dip their toe in the water before taking the plunge, I suggest volume 2 as a starter. It offers a comprehensive conspectus of the composer’s orchestral works. Thomas Beimel’s excellent annotations, in English, German and French, supply useful background to the music on offer.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review (Vol. 1): Rob Barnett

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