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Galina USTVOLSKAYA (1919-2006)
Concerto for Piano, String Orchestra and Timpani (1946) [18:41]
Valentin SILVESTROV (b. 1937)
Four Postludes (2004) * [16:48]
Giya KANCHELI (b. 1935)
Sio for String Orchestra, Piano and Percussion (1998) * [16:20]
Hymn 2001 (2001) [6:14]
Elisaveta Blumina (piano)
Jürgen Spitschka (timpani & percussion)
Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra/Thomas Sanderling
rec. 15-19 February 2015, SWR-Funkstudio, Stuttgart, Germany
Reviewed as a 24/48 download from eClassical
Pdf booklet included
* World premiere recordings
GRAND PIANO GP678 [58:03]

This is another of my ‘innocent ear’ reviews. As far as I know I’ve not heard anything by the Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya or the Georgian Giya Kancheli, but I have a passing acquaintance with the choral music of Valentin Silvestrov, who hails from the Ukraine. Also unknown to me is the pianist Elisaveta Blumina, a prize-winning prodigy who has studied with the likes of András Schiff, Radu Lupu and Bruno Canino. She already has a clutch of recordings to her name, among them a disc of Weinberg trios (CPO) and solo piano pieces by Silvestrov (Grand Piano GP639). The conductor Thomas Sanderling, son of the celebrated Kurt, needs no introduction.

As Anthony Short points out in his liner-notes Ustvolskaya’s long association with Shostakovich – she was his pupil and trusted friend – meant she never quite escaped from her master’s shadow. She vehemently denied any such influence, but listening to the Concerto for Piano, String Orchestra and Timpani – her official Op. 1 – it’s hard not to hear echoes of Shostakovich in both the robust piano part and in some of the orchestral sonorities. Blumina plays with commendable energy and Sanderling is a dutiful accompanist, but there’s a doggedness to the writing – a tendency to hector, too – that’s strangely self-defeating. The close, larger-than-life recording is a major turn-off – I’m not a fan of jumbo-sized pianos – and the bass is ill-defined.

Silvestrov’s Four PostludesLarghetto-Andante, Moderato and two Larghettos – are said to be emblematic of the composer’s ‘metaphorical’ style. I’m not at all sure what that means – Short doesn’t elucidate – but the Mahlerian echoes are hard to miss. The first movement in particular brings to mind the Adagietto from the latter’s Fifth Symphony. It’s all very slow – mesmeric, even – and a little samey. That said, the Stuttgarters’ luminous, singing line and Blumina’s gentle pianism are rather lovely. Hymn 2001, scored for artfully divided strings, is attractive but undemanding; happily, the sound here is superior to that provided for the Ustvolskaya piece.

Hymn 2001, dedicated to Kancheli, segues neatly with the latter’s Sio – or breeze – for String Orchestra, Piano and Percussion. Short makes the point that Kancheli is fascinated by silence and uses it to heighten musical/emotional tension. Not an original conceit, perhaps, but it certainly makes for some precipitous passages. Although somewhat terse Sio has an underlying lyricism that’s most appealing. Blumina is an alert and lively soloist – now pliant, now percussive – and Sanderling makes the mosts of Kancheli’s reflective/eruptive contrasts.

On first hearing I was determined to mark this collection down, but subsequent auditions have stayed my hand. My musical and technical reservations about the Ustvolskaya remain, but the Silvestrov and Kancheli have inveigled their way into my affections. True, these three works aren’t ‘must haves’, but they’re very engaging nonetheless. Jettison that rough, uninspired opener – easily done if you’re into downloads – and this becomes a most attractive issue.

Unleavened Ustvolskaya, but the Kancheli and Silvestrov are yeasty enough; solid playing and direction.

Dan Morgan


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