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Milan MIHAJLOVIĆ (b. 1945)
Memento - Orchestral Works
Bagateles for violin, strings and harpsichord (1986) [18:34]
Melancholy for oboe, strings and piano (2000?) [11:08]
Fa-mi(ly) for strings and piano (2013-17) [8:08]
Elegy for strings (1989) [8:47]
Memento for Orchestra (1993) [16:10]
Jan Mracek (violin), Yoriko Ikeya (harpsichord), Juliana Koch (oboe), Robert Starke (piano), Thomas Georgi (cello), Klaudina Schulze-Broniewska (violin)
Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt/Howard Griffiths
rec. August 2018, Frankfurt/Oder, Germany
CPO 555 296-2 [63:06]

The Serbian composer/conductor Milan Mihajlović was born in Belgrade at the end of the Second World War. His family had enthusiastic sympathies for music. Mihajlović completed his studies in composition and conducting in 1969-70. In Belgrade he worked as a music academic in increasingly senior positions across almost forty years. He was also an agitator and organiser for contemporary music. His scores have been performed throughout Europe.

His first orchestral scores date back to the early 1970s but those on this disc (which appears to be his first album on an international label) were written during the period from the 1980s almost to the present day. They communicate melodically but do so with a contemporary and very personal freshness.

Bagateles (1986) is a work suffused with peace and an evident rejection of the shout and the roar of the crowd; not to say that it is without intense passion. It is the longest piece and is just short of 20 minutes in duration. Bagateles (so spelled) is a strange title for Mihajlović to give to a work much of which is taken up by inscapes and reflection. It is in four movements: Preludio; Ostinato; Aria; Finale. The mixture of violin, strings and harpsichord creates a sound leaning towards Schnittke but without that composer’s driven and saw-toothed ways. In fact, much of the work is more of a prayerful song than a belligerent statement. The Finale is, by contrast, gritty and flies along with ruthless winged force: a touch of Shostakovich here.

Melancholy is a delicate little concertante. The oboe is a supplicant drifting from bleakness to warmth. If you enjoy the oboe concertante works by Malcolm Arnold and Gordon Crosse (Ariadne) this, too, should appeal. The ruthlessness I mentioned in the Finale of the Bagateles takes a remorseless grip on the second part of this score but this dispels as things draw to an almost penitent close. Fa-mi(ly) for strings and piano is another single-movement piece where the concentration is sustained and the strangeness of Mihajlovic’s world strikes a blend point between beckoning tonality and groaning expressiveness. The pace of the piece is often athletic. The Elegy for Strings is from 1989. Its refusal to raise its thoughtful voice much above pianissimo suggests a reverence or affection for Panufnik or Pärt. Memento is dedicated to the memory of the Serbian composer Vasilije Mokranjac. It’s the second longest piece here and the most varied, rising from the usual head-bowed mystery to a percussive rhythmic storm. It’s urgently blurted and even fearful before arriving at a short and very quiet epilogue evocative of a haze of bell-sounds: peace returns. It’s the only piece here for a full-complement orchestra but one predominantly used like a delicate palette knife rather than a cutlass or sabre.

Howard Griffith and his orchestra are regular contributors to CPO’s catalogue; no wonder, as once again they here show what feels like complete identification with Mihajlović’s very distinctive music. The CPO engineering and production team can be relied on to produce richly textured sound ... and do so. The disc’s liner-essays, in German and English, are by Ivona Vuksanovic and Zorica Premate.

Rob Barnett

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