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Martin GEORGIEV (b.1983)
Symphonic Triptych No. 1 (2006-2015) [36:11]
Percussion Concerto No. 3, Genesis for Marimba and Symphony Orchestra (2011) [17:46]
Tatiana Koleva (marimba)
Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Martin Georgiev
rec. Studio 1, Bulgarian National Radio, Sofia, 2014

With this disc the composer Martin Georgiev brings himself under broad international appraisal. He has what I take to be the advantage here of also being the conductor. His conducting studies were with Colin Davis and George Hurst. We are told that he has a track record of conducting engagements with many orchestras across Europe so he cannot be regarded as anything other than a practised and well-tutored hand.

Georgiev was born in the historic city of Varna in Bulgaria and raised in the Orthodox faith. He has been based in London since 2005 and has both Bulgarian and British citizenship. In 2013 he was appointed Assistant Conductor for the Royal Ballet at ROH Covent Garden. He was educated at the Royal Academy of Music and the National Academy of Music 'Pancho Vladigerov' in Sofia. He had private studies with the Bulgarian composer and conductor Vassil Kazandjiev, who has championed on disc, and presumably in concert, many of Bulgaria's composers. The musical line asserted itself early on in Georgiev's case: as a five-year-old, he studied recorder, percussion and piano. His first compositions appeared when he was twelve. His name may ring a bell for some: he wrote the liner essay for Hyperion's adventurous recording of the Piano Concerto (1936) by fellow countryman Dimitar Nenov (1901-1953). We have much to learn about Bulgarian music before we can continue to treat it with the indifference that has kept those three huge Balkanton boxes of Vladigerov's music trapped in vinyl purgatory.

Georgiev clearly attaches value to giving his music titles and vulnerably exposing the ideas behind each piece he writes. We are told that "he often incorporates spiritual ideas in the concept and realisation of his works." Interesting that: there are spiritual aspects to both the concept and the realisation - the latter suggesting that the executant also must engage although one could perhaps take that as a given if the concept is imbued with the spiritual. The ideas referred to are mentioned: "the meaning of human existence, the responsibility of the Creation to the Creator, and the divine essence of the human being."

The liner note (English, German and Bulgarian cyrillic) by Lutz Lesle (a member of Hamburg's Brahms and Mahler societies) goes into considerable detail beyond the 'mere' titles. Even the neutrally named Symphonic Triptych No. 1, with its three separately tracked movements, has a title for each: I Pistis (Faith) Elpis (Hope) Agape (Love); II Heavenly reflections; III Rescue. Not only does the Percussion Concerto No. 3 have a title, Genesis, each of its movements carries a superscription: I And darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters; II And God said let there be light; III And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

The three elements of Symphonic Triptych No. 1 are intended to work as a Symphony. The movements may be played in the order determined by the conductor so even though the composer is on the podium for this recording his choice of sequence is not definitive. The note also tells us that the movements may be played in isolation as individual pieces - tone poems. The Triptych is dedicated to the memory of Petia Pancheva Panayotova, Georgiev's aunt, a cardiologist.

The Pistis Elpis Agape movement is ushered in with majestic awe and groaning brass fanfares. It recalls the symphonies of the 1960s and 1970s by Alan Hovhaness (Vishnu and Etchmiadzin) and not for the last time. A motile cloud of bell-sounds intervenes and then comes a joyous theme carried by the violin sections. This theme and its treatment are extended in leisurely relaxation. A shallow parabola is described into a passage for sweetly intoned solo violin - a summation of serenity and gentle dance. Heavenly reflections inhabits stratospheric heights with prayerful writing. It as if circling specks are moving in the dizzying heights - some distanced arcane religious realm. The fine chime of silvery bells melts in the face of a whirling sand-dervish of noise. The final section, Rescue, announces itself with a rasping grunt and wails of protest. The music quickly subsides into quietude until a lively chatter of birdsong at about 4:00. This rises to holy fury only to fall away and rise again to a cloud of combustion. This too reaches a sudden dead stop and thin high notes finally reassert themselves.

The world premiere of Percussion Concerto No. 3 Genesis, commissioned by the Municipality of his birth city, was given in Varna with the soloist who plays in this recording. And darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters does not feel all that dark: the sweet, tremulously active vibrations of the marimba confer a blessing. The carolling strings recall another composer once vigorously taken up by Naxos, Alla Pavlova (review). The second movement, And God said let there be light, continues with humming mysteries, long-held notes like wine-glass resonations and murmuring ppp pages. No sharp turns of event are encountered. The final 'chapter' is And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. The music starts with grunts and grumbles comparable with those of the Symphonic Triptych. Darkness is evident and deadened untuned noises accentuate the atmosphere. There are vituperative altercations between marimba and a gruffly pulsating orchestra. This oxymoronic conflict continues in upwards-ratched tension. Gradually the orchestra is converted or subdued into heavenly serenity again la Hovhaness. The regal brass evokes some fantastic landscape of ruins and dilapidated palaces. The terse end is abrupt.

Music with an invitingly gruff and swirling strangeness that trumps and transcends its occasional avant-garde sounds.

Rob Barnett



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