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Vyacheslav ARTYOMOV (b. 1940)
On the Threshold of a Bright World - Symphony in 18 continuous episodes (1990, rev. 2002) [36.31]
Ave Atque Vale - For percussion and orchestra in 9 continuous episodes (1997) [29.39]
Ave, Crux Alba - Hymn of the order of St. John, Malta (1994, rev. 2012) [03.06]
National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia/Vladimir Ashkenazy
Helikon Theatre Choir
Rostislav Shatayevsky, percussion (Ave, Crux Alba)
rec. April 2013, Mosfilm Sound Studio, Moscow, Russia
No sung text provided
DIVINE ART DDA25143 [51.54]

Vyacheslav ARTYOMOV
Symphony: Gentle Emanation in 28 continuous episodes (1991, rev. 2008) [41.34]
Tristia II: Fantasy for piano and orchestra with narrated poem and prayer by Nikolai Gogol in 11 continuous episodes (1998, rev. 2011) [29.39]
Philip Kopachevsky (piano) Mikhail Philippov (reader)
Russian National Orchestra/Teodor Currentzis, Vladimir Ponkin
rec. June 2010/February 2011, Mosfilm Sound Studio, Moscow, Russia
No spoken text provided
DIVINE ART DDA25144 [71.25]

The Divine Art label has released two albums of orchestral works which each contain a significant and substantial symphony from Vyacheslav Artyomov one of the lesser known Soviet/Russian composers and a unique voice.

Born in Moscow 1940 Artyomov is one of a generation whose compositional career commenced during the time of the so-called ‘Khrushchev Thaw’ when the climate of state oppression and censorship in the Soviet Union became less draconian. Originally intending to become a physicist, Artyomov changed course by attending Moscow Conservatory and studying composition with Nikolai Sidelnikov and piano with Tovi Logovinsky. As one of Russia’s leading composers Artyomov has been the recipient of several prestigious commissions.

On the first disc the opening work is ‘On the Threshold of a Bright World’ subtitled a symphony in 18 continuous movements that Artyomov completed in 1990 and revised in 2002. The collapse of Communism in Russia was undoubtedly an emotional motivation behind the composition of this symphony, a work containing a romantic quality and carrying an inscription from the Book of Enoch. The score was commissioned by Mstislav Rostropovich, who in 1990 premièred the work with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington. I feel this is an engaging work that makes a considerable impact. Predominantly underpinned by low, resonant sound from the basses and organ, one senses the work is depicting the aspects of the universe with the high strings creating an undoubted sense of mystery and eerie percussion effects. Striking is the tension creating by the constantly shifting blocks of sound and employment of wide dynamics that can generate a thunderous climax that quickly fades away.

Originally written for percussion solo in 1997 Artyomov revised and orchestrated the score for percussion and orchestra in 9 continuous movements as ‘Ave Atque Vale’ (Hail and Farewell). It feels as if ‘Ave Atque Vale’ is scored for orchestra with percussion rather than for percussion supported by orchestra, nevertheless Rostislav Shatayevsky is clearly an expert percussionist. Atmospheric, with wide dynamics, the soundworld is not too dissimilar to that of the symphony ‘On the Threshold of a Bright World’. This is a gratifying work that can engage the listener with reasonable concentration. The final work on the release is ‘Ave, Crux Alba’, hymn of the order of St. John, Malta. In 1994 Artyomov heard a performance of the Order of Malta Hymn whilst visiting Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. Artyomov felt he could improve the hymn and wrote his own music and here is his 2012 version of ‘Ave, Crux Alba’ for chorus and orchestra. Lasting a mere 3 minutes, the score featuring, the Helikon Theatre Choir, is weighty and highly dramatic. There is no spoken text provided in the booklet. Under the baton of Vladimir Ashkenazy the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia has full measure of the work conveying a sense of mystery and an impressive overall grasp.

The second album contains two works, with the opening and most substantial work the Symphony: ‘Gentle Emanation’ taken from the Book of Job from the Russian Bible which is No. 3 of the cycle Symphonic Tetralogy titled ‘Symphony of the Way’. Composed in 1991 this is a three movement score with each movement inhabited by a contrasting character yet all representing, according to the composer, an aspect of “one soul in its inspiration to overcome challenges or obstacles in its inner drama and find a way to the light.” Mstislav Rostropovich premièred the work with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington and subsequently, in 2008, Artyomov decided to make extensive revisions to the score, which is the version played here. Opening with four spaced, extremely loud drum thwacks this is a remarkably powerful score that for its considerable length maintains a mood of inexorable mystery, of an almost ethereal luminosity contrasted with tension-filled episodes of menace and anger.

Next comes Tristia II, described as a fantasy for piano and orchestra, written in 1997 to commemorate the 60th birthday of Vladimir Ashkenazy. Artyomov revised the score in 2011. Integral in Tristia II is a spoken part in the first and last episodes with Mikhail Philippov here narrating the poem and prayer by Nikolai Gogol. Opening with densely woven strings, an atmospheric mood of nervous edgy and orchestral colour is soon created and maintained. The prominent piano chords used percussively not lyrically add to the anxious disposition. Narrator Mikhail Philippov’s vocal is deep and richly resonant. Unfortunately none of Gogol’s Russian text is provided in the booklet, only a single sentence explanation which is scant consolation for missing out on this aspect of the composer’s inspiration that he clearly felt was so important. The Russian National Orchestra excels under baton of Teodor Currentzis, giving a compelling performance that feels well-paced, producing wonderful orchestral textures. Pianist Philip Kopachevsky provides alert playing of real clarity. Both albums were recorded at Mosfilm Sound Studio, Moscow with excellent sound, crystal clear and nicely balanced too.

These two albums of works by Vyacheslav Artyomov, one of Russia unsung composers, make a substantial impression with his unique soundworld.

Michael Cookson

Previous review (both): Rob Barnett



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