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Anatol VIERU (1926-1998)
Orchestral Works - Volumes 3 & 4
Symphony no. 2 (1973) [25:44]
Sinfonia Concertante for Cello and Orchestra (1987) [25:48]
Clepsidra II (1971) [21:34]
Sinfonietta (1975) [12:13]
Psalm (1993) [10:22]
Symphonie no. 7 ‘The year of the Silent Sun’ (1992/93) [30:52]
Ivan Monighetti (cello)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Andrzej Markowski (sy 2)
Orchestra Filarmonicii "George Enescu" din Bucureşti/ Horia Andreescu (sinfonia)
Orchestra-Simfonica-a-Radioteleviziunii si Corul de cameră Mardigal/ Ludovic Bács (Clepsidra)
Symphonieorchester Radio Prag/ Josef Hrnčíř (sinfonietta)
Orchestra de Cameră Radio/ Ludovic Bács (Psalm)
Orchestra Naţională Radio/ Horia Andreescu (sy 7)
rec. Radio România, rbb, Czech Radio, dates not given
World premiere performances: Symphony No. 2 & Sinfonietta
DDD / ADD Stereo
TROUBADISC TRO-CD01451 [2 CDs: 126:45]

This fascinating 2 CD set from the Munich-based label Troubadisc constitutes volumes 3 and 4 in their ongoing Anatol Vieru series. I've already had the pleasure of reviewing the previous two volumes. It's helpful to consider Vieru's challenging but deeply rewarding music against the backdrop of his biography. He was born on 8 June 1926 in Iaşi, Romania. In 1941 the country entered the war, agreeing to collaborate with the Nazis in the extermination of European Jewry. As the male Jews were mustered together for slaughter in a courtyard in Iaşi, Vieru's father had the presence of mind to escape with his two sons at the last minute. With the cessation of hostilities, Anatol enrolled at the Bucharest School of Music in 1946. He remained there until 1951. In 1954 he travelled to the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow to complete his studies with Aram Khachaturian. This launched him on a career as composer, conductor and teacher. He composed four operas, seven symphonies, several concertos, eight string quartets, other chamber works, several film scores and some choral and vocal music. He taught at the Bucharest Conservatoire from 1950 -1985. He died in 1998.

The Symphony No. 2 dates from 1973, and is here receiving its world premiere performance a year later. It's cast in three interlinked movements. The first has the strange title Tachycarie, which translates as ‘heart palpitations’. Vieru depicts this arrhythmia in jolting stop/start rhythms, with the music never relaxing for a single moment. His imaginative use of percussion instruments adds some brightly coloured sonorities to the mix. Psalm follows, and the music settles. Use is made of a hymn-like tune, its religious character reinforced by the occasional chiming bell. Bird sounds and primeval cries evoke a surreal landscape, populated with multifarious life forms, set against a backdrop of diaphanous orchestral chording. The finale Melodie Descatusata is nervous and spiky and what I can only describe as pointillistic.

Fourteen years later in 1987, Vieru penned his five-movement Sinfonia Concertante for cello and orchestra. Once again the movements are linked, with just a brief pause between movements 3 and 4. Having listened to it two or three times it seems like one long undulating narrative with the protagonist, here the solo cello, playing continuously. It opens with the tuba, evoking a dark, sombre atmosphere. The cello line is forlorn and anguished. Eventually it becomes more biting and percussive. Double stops, fingered octave glissandi and uncomfortable intervals place formidable demands on the soloist. Ivan Monighetti is fully up to the task, and his intonation is spot on. The third movement offers some respite. The music becomes dreamlike and otherworldly, almost soporific. Vieru achieves this by considerably lightening the orchestration. The fourth movement's roughly-hewn textures contrast with the calm and serenity of the fifth movement.

Clepsidra 11 is the earliest piece here, written in 1971. It's the highlight of the set for me. Vieru calls on the services of chorus, panpipes, cimbalom and orchestra for this superbly constructed and immensely powerful score. All the emotions known to man - joy and terror, grief and solace, disappointment and hope and earnestness and humour - are all there. The performance sounds well-rehearsed and ensemble between the various groups is second-to-none. The set is worth its price for this work alone.

The Sinfonietta (1975) is here receiving its premier outing. It was a commission to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1926, the year, incidentally, that the composer was born. As a sign of respect to the Czech players, the work is heavily indebted to Leoš Janáček who was, no doubt, an influence for the impressive fanfare introduction. Bombastic and garishly coloured, it makes for a spectacular orchestral showpiece. The short orchestral piece Psalm was composed in 1993. The title refers to its profound, reverential demeanour. There could be no greater contrast between the deeply felt spiritual feelings that permeate this work, and the boisterous melee of the preceding Sinfonietta.

The Seventh Symphony is Vieru’s farewell to the form. It was composed in 1992-1993 when he was composer-in-residence at New York University. Its title is 'The year of the Silent Sun'. The opening movement Prelude is tranquil and luminous and, for the most part, understated. Vieru quotes the Christmas carol Silent Night at various points. He employs delightful woodwind writing and some powerfully atmospheric pianissimos. The second movement has the enigmatic title of Loops. It has the character of a capricious and whimsical scherzo. The finale is titled Hymn and the chiming bells make an appearance. Everything is calm and restrained, yet there's an underlying unease. At the end, however, the work appears to find peace and contentment.

These performances emanate from several sources, including Czech and Romanian radio. The actual recording dates are not given, with the exception of the two world premieres. These were taped in 1974 and 1975. The quality of the recordings are uniformly excellent, which leads me to assume that all were set down around the same time. I couldn't detect any audience presence in any of them. Egbert Hiller's annotations in English, French and German are helpful. I hope that there'll be more Vieru to come in this absorbing series.

Stephen Greenbank



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