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Valentin SILVESTROV (b. 1937)
Handsome Skies
Nostalghia (2001) [4:40]
3 Bagatelles, Op 1 (2005) [9:11]
3 Bagatelles, Op 4 (2006) [6:29]
3 Waltzes with Postludium, Op 3 (2005-06) [10:05]
4 Pieces, Op 2 (2005) [9:34]
Postludium, Op 5 [4:03]
Waltz and two Serenades, Op 193 [6:33]
Melody [3:02]
Alessandro Stella (piano)
rec. 25 June 2017, Abbey Rocchi Studios, Rome, Italy
KHA RECORDS KHA019 [53:39]

Valentin Silvestrov’s work underwent a transformation in 1970, moving away from contemporary music’s avant-garde to something that has become known as ‘metamusic’, or as Silvestrov himself has summarised as “a semantic overtone on music”, something that can also be interpreted as a synonym for a universal style. Whatever the basis and analysis of this renaissance, Silvestrov’s more recent music has become better known and accepted in the west, a contrast to its suppression under the Soviet regime in the 1950s and 60s. Listeners may already have orientated themselves in this style with Elisaveta Blumina’s excellent recital on the Grand Piano label (review), and if they have they will know what to expect from Handsome Skies.

Seen superficially, this is straightforwardly tonal, melody-led music that wears its heart on its sleeve. There is a danger that performances can edge their way towards new-agey sentimentality in this repertoire, and my feeling is that Alessandro Stella steers closer to this than does Elisaveta Blumina, but this subjective unease may also just be a response to the actual music - I mean, how else are you going to play it? There are some intriguingly labyrinthine progressions amongst these pieces, the second of the Waltzes Op 3 being a case in point. There is therefore an element of unpredictability amongst the bluesy notes and ‘classically romantic’ cadences that occasionally bring the gentler moods of Keith Jarrett to mind, and this is the frisson that prevents these pieces from becoming overly naïve in effect. I would stress the word ‘effect’ here. You can allow this music to wash over you like the comforting suds of a nice warm bath, but you will probably also find your ear automatically seeking out those sophisticated touches that somehow manage to avoid cliché just enough to keep the mind engaged.

Silvestrov is not as acerbic as Erik Satie, nor is he as frustratingly predictable as the beloved Einaudi or the much lauded Yiruma, but if you appreciate the character of these names’ piano music, then Handsome Skies will find a welcome place in your collection. This is the kind of CD that you can give to your mother-in-law, reasonably safe in the knowledge that she will love every minute, but also bearing in mind that she might not know entirely why. As a composer I know what kind of craftsmanship goes into these pieces, and this is a style that is harder to imitate effectively than you might expect. I have nothing but respect for Valentin Silvestrov, and this is a beautifully produced recording, the piano sound close enough to catch the atmosphere of those interior resonances set up through judicious use of the sustain pedal. There is however no booklet or any notes on the gatefold sleeve about the music itself.

As the title of this album suggests, there is very little darkness here, but there is a great deal of careful and poetic thought. “...music is song in spite of everything, even when it is unable to sing in a literal sense. Not a philosophy, not a system of beliefs, but the song of the world about itself, and at the same time a musical testament to existence.”

Dominy Clements



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