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Vyacheslav ARTYOMOV (b.1940)
Requiem (1988)
Inna Polianskaya (soprano), Lyubov Sharnina (soprano), Yelena Brylyova (soprano), Aleksei Martynov (tenor), Mikhail Lanskoĭ (baritone), Yelena Brilyova (soprano), Andrei Azovski (treble), Oleg Yanchenko (organ)
Kaunas State Choir/Piatras Bingialis
Sveshnikov Boys' Choir of the Moscow Choral School/Victor Popov
Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Dmitri Kitayenko
rec. 1988, House of Soundrecording, Moscow, Russia, recorded during the rehearsals for the premiere
DIVINE ART DDA25173 [76:11]

Vyacheslav Artyomov, a prolific composer, is a graduate of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in his birthplace, Moscow. If you need to orientate yourself with this composer then try the site's reviews of The Way to Olympus (review review), Sola Fide and the symphonies (review ~ review). Robert Matthew-Walker's now very rarely-found book on Artyomov was published in 1997 by DGR Books of St Austell while, more accessibly, the composer's satisfyingly detailed website can be found here. He has made a renewed impact in the last two years and this is largely due to the recording label, Divine Art. I say 'renewed' because in previous decades his music has been available thorough Olympia, Melodiya-Gramzapis, Boheme and Mobile Fidelity. Currently no other company does and will do as much as Divine Art to propagate this composer's music.

Artyomov's Requiem carries the superscription "To the martyrs of long-suffering Russia". It's a major structure in seven parts across which there are sixteen subdivisions, each allotted a track on this CD. This is punctiliously reflected in the track-listing. The language of each title, and of the sung words, is Latin. The text is given in full in the booklet. In keeping with expectations associated with Requiem this work is a grand statement. Its subject matter is as much about Russia, its people and their tragic history as about Christianity and Eternity. Artyomov's musical language is hard-hitting but not avant-garde in any West Coast or London Round House sense. The massed forces deployed make a big sound with a lot for the orchestra and choirs to do. The voices often sing, usually in parallel with the always engaging instrumental web, as if from a mystical distance. Brutally rough approximations of facets of this work point towards Tavener (Akhmatova Requiem) and Williamson (Mass of Christ the King) but Artyomov is his own man. The performers in this recording gave the Moscow premiere. This recording was previously issued as Melodiya SUCD 10-00106.

The work opens with a short, harshly grinding and grating brass 'fanfare' before the choir enters, wailing in quiet mystery. The restless Kyrie eleison progresses in rising panic through the choir and chanting bells. For the two-section Dies Irae the choir are caught in a massed staccato whisper while the orchestra chatter and the whole ensemble is then swept up in whirling violence. There is an element of Ligeti here. The Tuba Mirum subsides into a burble of remote-seeming singing and fanfares. The gentle Recordare echoes yearning and aspiration and mingles this with the desolation of empty distances and immeasurable fatigue. A solo male voice resoundingly underlines the message but with operatic fervour. The blend of anxiety and threat in the Confutatis maledictis shivers and shudders. Next, the thumbscrew of tension is gradually turned and the atmosphere becomes more concentrated: do not listen if you suffer from headaches. This carries over into the Lacrimosa. After the elevated mysteries of the Domine Jesu there comes stratospheric devotional soprano singing amid a deluge of silvery and piercing activity from the orchestra. The insinuating blade of Artyomov's writing makes way for a Benedictus in which multiple solo voices and high-pitched bells develop a pitch of pressured hysteria relieved by carillon writing.

The static dream that is the conjoined Agnus Dei and the start of the Libera Me is evoked by the tone of intercession projected by a solo man's voice. The end-course of the Libera me is the exact opposite of static. Its music features lots of high running violins and sheering metallic sounds. It forms a prelude to the penultimate and very moving Requiem aeternam. The orchestra's voice is again one of chanting and cycling note-cells - a mirror held up to desolation. This section of music comes to what feels like a sorrowing close: a sob woven into the fabric, not mere sadness. The solo women enter the sound-scape in velvety quiet singing. This bespeaks inwardness and prayer. It most certainly is not a proclamatory Apostrophe to the Heavenly Host (Healy Willan). The final In paradisum is, at first, clothed in a Holstian tapestry of birdcalls which somehow suggest dove-white wings. The music ascends to an overflowing choral climax. This possesses (at some remove) the sense of similar ecstatic moments in Howells' Hymnus Paradisi and Holst's Hymn of Jesus. The sound falls away and the last few pages have about them something of Messiaen, but stranger and more direct-speaking.

The capacious booklet covers much territory. The notes are by Valeriya Lyubetskaya and Yuliya Yevdokimova; the latter's essay is specific to the Requiem. Far from an also-ran are two pages of the composer's opening speech preparing the ground for the premiere of his Requiem. The second part of the booklet is in Cyrillic. Divine Art then confidently set out its stall with its six CD covers illustrated. There are also details of three more discs 'in the works'. A plenitude of photographs purposefully decorate the booklet. It's a pity that the sung words are not linked to the disc's 16 tracks although the track-and section schema on p.2 makes this clear enough.

Rob Barnett



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