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Valentin SILVESTROV (b. 1937)
Ode to a Nightingale (1983) [19:06]
Cantata No.4 (2014) [11:30]
Concertino for Piano and Small Orchestra (2015) [19:11]
Moments of Poetry and Music (2003) [5:39]
Symphony No.7 (2003) [17:16]
Inna Galatenko (soprano); Oleg Bezdorodko (piano)
Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Lyndon-Gee
rec. 18-24 January 2019, Lithuanian Cultural Centre Recording Studio, Vilnius, Lithuania
NAXOS 8.574123 [73:06]

All the works recorded here are fairly recent ones in Silvestrov's output; all but one, indeed, since the marvellous Ode to a Nightingale dates back to 1983, at least in its original version for somewhat smaller orchestral forces. The version heard here is reportedly the world première recording of the orchestral arrangement which was actually first performed by the present soloist and conductor in 2018. The original version was – and may still be – available on MEGADISC MDC 7842 with Ludmilla Vojnarovska and the Kiev Kamerata conducted by Virko Baley. Keats' poem had already been set to music by Hamilton Harty, whose magnificent setting for soprano and orchestra is all-too-rarely heard in concert but, true to say, it is an awfully taxing work. (I for one have heard it in concert only once, actually a couple of years ago during a concert organised by the British Music Society and coming back to it many years after having heard it on disc made me realise what a beautiful work it is.)

But now what about Silvestrov's setting? First, he set a Russian translation by Yevgenij Vitkovsky (1949 – 2020) who died only a few months before the release of this recording. Second, and possibly, more importantly, Silvestrov's approach to the text is undoubtedly less lush than, say, Hamilton Harty's opulent setting, using only chamber-like forces, even in the present orchestral guise. Silvestrov conceived his setting along rather strict lines. The soprano part has what Christopher Lyndon-Gee describes in his notes as “a basic vocabulary of eight melodic phrases” endlessly submitted to permutations, thus creating some sort of mosaic, unified, however, by recurring melodic shapes accompanied by the nightingale's song represented by a continuum played by the solo piano, harp, vibraphone and wind instruments, the whole creating a wonderfully hypnotic mood. At the very end, the music fades away as a light breeze. I for one find Silvestrov's Ode to a Nightingale one of his most personal and gripping achievements.

The more recent works were all composed within a ten-year span, roughly between 2003 and 2015, and are certainly more representative of the composer's music-making over the last years. The most striking stylistic feature is a nostalgic glance at the music's past which often results in elusive, understated musical shapes which may at times be experienced as pastiche - which they actually rarely are. Malcolm MacDonald, as quoted in Lyndon-Gee's notes, sums up Silvestrov's compositional outlook by saying that Silvestrov “seems to compose, not the lament itself, but the lingering memory of it; the mood of sadness that it leaves behind”. This clearly applies to all the other works recorded here. The Cantata No.4 composed in 2014 is structured, as it were, in two diptychs: Diptych 1 being made of a first vocal movement (Silouan's Song) and a short movement for piano and strings (Pastorale), whereas Diptych 2 is made of two songs, the last one being a “gentle paean to simple things”. The Pastorale from Cantata No.4 is then redeveloped as the second movement of the Concertino for Piano and Small Orchestra completed in 2015, so that both pieces may be regarded as a pair linked in mood and style sharing with other works by Silvestrov the same elusive, at times enigmatic, understated expression. Things are hinted at rather than overtly expressed, and this is probably what makes Silvestrov's recent music difficult to penetrate.

The fairly short Moments of Poetry and Music of 2003 is yet another diptych combining a short song for voice and piano with a somewhat longer orchestral movement acting as one of those many postludes found in Silvestrov's output.

Composed the same year, the Symphony No.7 is a concise, one-movement structure in much the same vein as most other works recorded here, in that after a rather tumultuous opening the music alternates “eruptions of violence or anguish with moments of elegiac tenderness”. There also is a nostalgic, though unsentimental, piano cadenza played here by Marija Grikevičiūté. Then the music literally fades away into silence.

This generous release offers a fine survey of Silvestrov's mostly recent output and sheds some interesting light on his deeply idiosyncratic music-making along with a most welcome performance of the marvellous Ode to a Nightingale which, as far as I am concerned, crowns this highly commendable release recorded in the composer's presence by musicians long associated with his music and thus lending it an undeniable seal of authenticity.

Hubert Culot

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