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Yuri Alexandrovich FALIK (1936-2009)
Sinfonietta (1984) [12:55]
Violin Concerto (1971) [24:28]
Elegiac Music (1975) [11:49]
First Concerto for Orchestra (1967-1971) [22:16]
Viktor Lieberman (violin)
Leningrad Chamber Orchestra/Eduard Serov (Violin Concerto)
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (Elegiac, Concerto for Orchestra)
St. Petersburg Camerata Chamber Orchestra/Saulius Sondeckis (Sinfonietta)
rec. 1977-1991, St. Petersburg Recording Studio; Capella Concert Hall; Leningrad Philharmonic Grand Hall

Like David Oistrakh, Russian composer Yuri Falik was born in Odessa. At the Leningrad Conservatoire he had Boris Arapov (himself a prolific composer with seven symphonies to his name) as composition teacher. Rostropovich was his cello master and it was the cello that was Falik's instrument.

There is no shortage of music in Falik's active storeroom. Among the symphonies only the Sinfonietta for Strings (1984) has not, as Mike Herman points out, been recorded. Four symphonies were issued in 2008 on the Composer St Petersburg CD MP3 label (1 for String Orchestra and Percussion (1963); 2 Kaddish (1993), 3 Canto in Memoria (2005) and Sinfonia Leggiera (1971)). Other Falik works include Oresteia, a choreographic tragedy (after Aeschylus), eight string quartets (1-2 1960s-70s?, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1984, 1993, 2001), and a Mass for soloists, chorus, and chamber orchestra (1996).

The present CD is liberally loaded with music of this little-heard Russian master whose standing, rather like the international eminence of Tippett and Maxwell Davies, has dipped since his death. There are two other Northern Flowers Falik discs: quartets 3-6 and an orchestral duo. We can hope for more.

Dating from 1984 the Sinfonietta (1984) is the most recent work here. It began life as the String Quartet No. 6 which bears a dedication to the Komitas Quartet. The two movements comprise the laconically titled Fanfares and Requiem. The first sounds a little like Britten with its plunging attack, tension build-ups and surging releases. The Requiem's powerfully thrusting music is fully freighted with feeling. Much of it is driven by the interplay of scorched yet sweet regret and the hushed razor-stropped textures with which it takes its leave.

The Violin Concerto has been around for getting on for half a century. It is a shortish work, in sections and here presented in a single track. The five sections have a Prelude and Postlude which, as you would expect, open and close the work. Between these 'flankers' are a Largo, an Interlude and a Toccata. The Concerto's tart and peripatetic tonality carries a Bergian mournfulness. Its precisian language is like a honed scalpel but is no obstacle to a rumpus of Bernstein-like explosive assertion at 10:00. After yet more lugubrious tribulations, among lush harp sweeps, it finds it way, chastened, into the sunlight. The chiming orchestral backdrop eases forward the steadily piercing solo violin's 'blade' and allows it to sink into silence. Falik's music is a step back from engagement with the brutal or blasé side of humanity but not from its sorrow.

Speaking of which, we come to Falik's Elegiac Music - Dirge for Igor Stravinsky (1975). The scoring is spartan: 16 strings and 4 trombones. It was one of a wave of tributes in the wake of Stravinsky's death. There were Epitaphs and the like from many composers including Berio, Berkeley, Blacher, Copland, Denisov, Lutyens (Chorale for Orchestra), Maw, Maxwell Davies, Milhaud, Schnittke, Milhaud, Sessions and Hugh Wood. In Falik's case do not expect the Dirge to be counterintuitive; it is drear with the strings speaking in shredded tolling tones and with the baleful trombones (seeming at one point to reference the Dies Irae) orating from on high. This amounts to the toughest listening here and its concentration is unremitting and not balm-laden in any sense. Falik seems to speak of a bereft world without Stravinsky and does not pull his emotional punches.

The First Concerto for Orchestra was inspired by, and mined from, a full-length ballet on the Thyl Ulenspiegel legend. The four 'scenes', again laid out in a single track, open with a portrait of the rambunctious Thyl. This central character emerges as a mix of Billy the Kid¸ Jolly Rutterkin, the Good Soldier Svejk, Falstaff and Beckus the Dandipratt. A picaresque, tragic-triumphant figure, Thyl sticks out his tongue at all quarters of officialdom, all the while capering, romantically teary-eyed, wild and woolly. Sometimes atonal, this part of the score proceeds accordingly. The darkly coloured No jokes with the Inquisition has about it a ruthless determination (7:00-8:00) and Falik even lets an organ into the proceedings. The music becomes increasingly violent, ushering in a stubbornly lugubrious march. Nele, Thyl's light-of-love, has a sweeter, more yielding presence carried by the clarinet. Even so Falik does not serve up an easy lyricism and the movement rises to consuming passion. In the finale - Night on the burning stake - passion tips over into violence. Raging, whooping fanfares and jagged edges are the order of the day. There's an impassioned seething Arnoldian violence about this writing as, to the sound of malevolent bells, the flames lick and engorge themselves on Thyl. His ultimately irrepressible presence seems at last to triumph over murderous adversity. If you were wondering about the Second Concerto it is on the other Northern Flowers orchestral disc.

The liner-notes are anonymous and are in English only. They run to five purposeful pages. The playing never seems less than supremely studied yet spontaneous and this despite the variety of artists, venues and session details.

Rob Barnett

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