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Galina USTVOLSKAYA (1919-2006)
Piano Sonata no.1 (1947) [9:11]
Octet for two oboes, four violins, timpani and piano (1950) [16:54]
Violin Sonata (1952) [17:05]
Grand Duet for Cello and Piano (1959) [26:46]
Mikhail Waiman (violin)
Oleg Malov (piano)
Maria Karandashova (piano)
Oleg Stolpner (cello)
rec. 1961-1985, St Petersburg (Leningrad) Recording Studio, Cappella Concert Hall

St Petersburg-based Northern Flowers is a label known for its unhackneyed approach to Russian music. It has a catalogue that for the most part concerns itself with the twentieth century.

These intelligently assembled Ustvolskaya recordings are from archive sources. The results are clean sounding and not at all lacking in substance. They have been transferred with great care. It is evident that attentive and musically-sympathetic decisions have been made both recently and at the original sessions.

The Piano Sonata No. 1, by the then 28-year-old composer, is in a single track as are all four pieces. The Sonata's halting progress does not imply weakness. Ustvolskaya's stony music, with its Bach-like dissonance, is unapologetically inexorable. The Octet, from three years later, is also statuesque and dissonant. The unusual gang of instruments around the piano adds a shuddering chill. The deferential oboes softly humanise the picture while the timps hammer out a ruthless tattoo. The Violin Sonata is also implacable. That said, the violin does make a pass in the direction of a vulnerable humanity that sorrows and sings. Otherwise the impression is that the Russian winter has entered the soul. The 1959 Grand Duet is a strongly rhetorical piece with an icy Shostakovich-like part for the piano. This influence is stronger here than in the other three scores. Like its brethren on this disc it is inclined towards the obsidian-hard and towards unremittingly granitic harshness. This is relieved by a rhythmically inventive knack. There is nothing of the circus or the playground in this music. She said: "My music is my life" and she did indeed have a harsh life.

The triple-fold insert includes a good contextual essay by Sergey Suslov and another by Boris Tishchenko. These notes are in English only.

This may well be the first time these recordings have appeared on CD although another version of the Octet appeared on BMG-RCA in 2005.

Rob Barnett



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