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Vyacheslav ARTYOMOV (b.1940)
Symphony - On the Threshold of a Bright World (1990 rev. 2002) [36:31]
Ave Atque Vale for solo percussion and orchestra (1997) [12:15]
Ave, Crux Alba (1994 rev. 2012) [3:06]
Helikon Theater Choir (Ave Crux)
Rostislav Shataevsky (percussion - Ave Atque Vale)
National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia/Vladimir Ashkenazy
rec. Mosfilm Sound Studios, April 2013
DIVINE ART DDA25143 [51:54]

Symphony - Gentle Emanation (1991 rev 2008) [41:33]
Tristia II - Fantasy for piano and orchestra (1991 rev 2011) [29:39]
Philip Kopachevsky (piano); Mikhail Phillipov (reader)
Russian National Orchestra/Vladimir Ponkin; Teodor Currentzis (Symphony)
rec. Mosfilm Studios, June 2010, February 2011
DIVINE ART DDA25144 [71:25]

Moscow-born Vyacheslav Artyomov studied at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory. With Sofia Gubaidulina and Viktor Suslin he experimented with the use of folk instruments. He is a prolific composer. His catalogue includes an orchestral symphony series collectively called The Symphony of the Way. This comprises: 1. The way to Olympus (1978 rev 1984), 2. On the Threshold of a Bright World (1990 rev 2002), 3. Gentle Emanation and 4. Morning Star Arises (1993). His other symphonies include Symphony No. 1 for chamber orchestra, A Symphony of Elegies, which dates from 1977 and was recorded by Melodiya on both LP and CD. The Second, In Memoriam, and Third Symphonies were issued on now-deleted Olympia OCD 516. The Symphony No. 3 is for Organ, Violin and Orchestra and bears the title Way to Olympus (1978-84). The works included on these two separately available CDs are products of the 1990s and 2000s. For a perspective on earlier phases you could try to find a disc — Ave on the now defunct and much lamented Boheme label — of music in his less revolutionary modes. There is a review of that disc here. If you are of a mind to pursue this composer's output in depth then there have been, over the years, plenty of discs including the Gramzapis series. Add to this an extensive write-up by and about Artyomov at the FSC site.

The Symphony On the Threshold of a Bright World is in 18 continuous episodes, separately tracked. Perhaps taking something from Shchedrin's Symphony No. 2 Twenty-Five Preludes all of these works are in small mosaic units but with paragraphal continuity. The Artyomov proffers a continuous experience rather than a series of stops and starts. Mood transitions are evolutionary rather than abrupt. A surreal and even psychedelic ambience is the order of the day. It is like a Dali dreamscape in constant and meltingly waxy motion. There are some dramatic upsurges [3] amid this subdued and moody processional - the predominance of gloom is comparable with that in Bax's strikingly ruminative Northern Ballad No. 2 and the darker and less flamboyant pages of that composer's First and Second Symphonies [9]. Penderecki-style rolling violins and statuesque writing for the brass provide a backdrop for stabbing pangs of pain from the strings. The music has the character of Scriabin's late orchestral writing rising to torrid abandon and dissonance. There is some glorious writing for celesta, piano and solo violin [8]. The solo violin returns, blessedly pristine and pure at [16]. In the final segment the listener is conscious of pounding pressure but this fades to a filament of light voiced by the solo violin. The notes tell us that at the Washington premiere of an earlier version of this work the music was greeted as "unsettling, profoundly moving and extraordinarily beautiful".

We then come to a piece which smack of The Round House experiments of the 1970s. Ave Atque Vale is in nine continuous short episodes, again separately tracked. Bells and percussion are prominent among groaning writing for brass and strings. Long sizzling string lines compete with jagged interjections by the percussion. There is a sense of protest and of kicking against others' certainties. Track 24 feels like a jungle dance - some rite undocumented by Stravinsky. Things rise towards cataclysm, a steely ringing warning and an ululated repetition that is half shriek-half wail.

The short Ave, Crux Alba - The Order of Malta Hymn - is easier on the ear. It was written for a Papal visit. The music is sensationally grand and strides - never struts. It makes a huge sound accentuated by a lively acoustic. As with the other two recordings the sound is good and carries the whispers and grand climactics with satisfying fidelity.

There are two very substantial works on the second disc. Gentle Emanation is in 28 continuous episodes and three sections: 1-9; 10-17; 18-28. The music flickers and pounds like a huge metal stamping machine. There's more than a touch of Messiaen's wildness about this and those shivering Scriabinisms, already commented on in the symphony On the Threshold of a Bright World, are also present. Add to this little shuddering sallys-forth by the brass and the exultant aural equivalent of solar flares [8]. In section 2 there are more fury-driven outbursts, some long sustained - a gigantic Victorian steam-hammer out of control. This pummelling relents at [13], making way for Messiaen-like bird-song. Light begins to enter the proceedings with the tinkle of bells at [18]. The final tracks seem to signal a gentle slide, a slow sinking into uneasy repose, the opening of doors into the mysteries.

Tristia II is the second of two works for piano and orchestra called Tristia. There is also a Piano Concerto No. 1 from 1961. This is in eleven segments across roughly half an hour. It was written to mark the sixtieth birthday of Vladimir Ashkenazy. The language and effect is shared with those of the two symphonies. It's highly unconventional and the first and last tracks incorporate Nikolai Gogol's supplicatory prayer to some angel-custodian, here voiced at quarters close and warm by Mikhail Philippov.

None of this music makes for an easy listen but there is certainly plenty to intrigue and enthral if you have a moderately tough resolve and an inclination to explore. It should appeal if you have taken to the shamanic incantatory ways of Sergei Zhukhov but it is wilder. You should also take to it if you enjoy Silvestrov although it is tougher with corners roughly hewn (review review). If you already have a taste for the orchestral works of Messiaen and of late Scriabin then again you will find much to appeal to you in these unusual works.

The very knowledgeable notes are in English only and are by composer Robert Matthew-Walker whose book on Artyomov was published in 1997 by DGR Books of St Austell.

These two discs are dedicated to the memory of Artyomov's friend and colleague, the cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich.

Rob Barnett