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Valentin SILVESTROV (b. 1937)
Two Dialogues with Postscript (version for piano and string orchestra) (2002) [8:46]
Serenade for String Orchestra (V. Khrapachov) (1978) [14:52]
Farewell Serenade (to I. Karabits) (2003) [6:16]
Silent Music (to Manfred Eicher) (2002) [11.05]
The Messenger - 1996 (To Larissa Bondarenko) (version for piano, strings and synthesizer) (1997) [9:26]
Moments of Memory II (2003) [17:32]
Iryna Starodub (piano)
Kiev Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
rec. 2016, Recording House, Ukraine National Radio, Kiev
NAXOS 8.573598 [67:59]

Valentin Silvestrov is an inspired sentimentalist whose music is invested with the surreal. He casts his nets among the tenderly soft focus and the subtly dissonant. Very much a Kiev figure, he studied composition with Boris Lyatoshinsky and harmony and counterpoint with Lev Revutsky; let's have his two symphonies, please. As the excellent Paul Conway tells us in his head-on informative essay, Silvestrov also drew on Webern, Scriabin and the new Polish school. Another aspect borne out here is that the composer builds into his scores endearing references to his friends.

Two works stand high in his catalogue. The Koussevitzky Foundation Prize-winning Third Symphony Eschatophony (1966) remains unrecorded. However, the opulently psychedelic Fifth Symphony (1980–82) which left me close to dazed when I first heard it in 1999, has been recorded four or five times. As I said in October 1999. "while essentially simple [this] symphony is richly voluptuous and is lit by a colossal beauty-centred candlepower." That it has been multiply recorded says a lot about its strengths and sheer "pulling power".

The present disc contains six gently painted and shaped scores. The tripartite Two Dialogues with Postscript for piano and string orchestra (2002) is in a series of what I can only call dream visions. First there's a delicately misted and stately Schubertian Wedding Waltz. Then comes a darker and even dangerous Postlude based on a fragment by Wagner. It quietly carries the implication of storm and decay - a fascinating face-off. Morning Serenade is the last segment. With perhaps a distant shade of Shenandoah on the misty horizon this glistens with 1970s filmic sentimentality. The solo piano adds what feels like a shiver but one that paradoxically warms the listener.

An extended single movement, the Serenade for String Orchestra (1978) is dedicated to composer and musicologist Vadim Khrapachov. The suggestion of cinematographic caramel in the Two Dialogues with Postscript is left behind. The music ambles its thoughtful and halting way with Bergian dissonance. This is a work of Silvestrov's forties and bears the stigmata of his studies of the Polish school of the 1960s.

The diminutive Farewell Serenade for string orchestra (2003) abandons such provocatively souring flirtations. It is in two sections played without a break. The second of these, again, has the sweetened air of Shenandoah. The score is a tribute to one of Ukraine’s leading 20th-century composers, Ivan Karabits (1945–2002) who was also the pupil of Boris Lyatoshinsky and of Myroslav Skoryk. Ivan was the father of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conductor, Kirill Karabits.

Dedicated to Manfred Eicher (of ECM fame), Silent Music consists of three movements. The title bespeaks a composer who likes a challenge. The first movement is the delicate Waltz of the Moment with its cradle-rocking slow-motion outline of "Rock-a-bye-baby". A reflectively downbeat Evening Serenade is taken at one of Silvestrov's hallmark idly-relaxed paces. Moments of the Serenade finishes Silent Music in a soft continuation of the earlier moods. Bernstein would have loved this as much as he loved the Mahler 5 Adagietto.

The Messenger – 1996 carries a dedication to Silvestrov’s wife, the musicologist Larissa Bondarenko. She died in 1996. It's for piano, string orchestra and a discreetly applied synthesizer. This delicate Mozartean refraction is a silvery, fragile and diaphanous. It's an Elvira Madigan moment but more preciously imagined. Overall what we hear is close to the sort of pastiche heard in Silvestrov's piano pieces, Kitsch Music from 1977.

Moments of Memory II is in six miniatures for piano and string orchestra. It's couched in a language that draws on 1970s wide-screen emotionality. The faintly Chopin-like Serenade of Childhood is dedicated to the Kiev-based, G. Khoroshilov. Oleg Kiva is the dedicatee of the tentative Elegy. The tearful yet dignified Farewell Waltz is dedicated to Vadim Khrapachov. Postlude is dedicated to the composer Yevhen Stankovych (review review review). Autumn Serenade like The Messenger was written for Larissa Bondarenko. It too carries the shard-like echoes of a tune related to Shenandoah. The melody blooms in fine health despite the fractures. The concluding Pastoral - once again irresistibly moist-eyed - is dedicated to Inga Nikolenko, the daughter of Ivan Karabits.

This is a generous and for the most part very easily accessible entrée to the world of Valentin Silvestrov.

Rob Barnett



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