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Misterioso - Silvestrov, Pärt, Ustvolskaya / Lubimov, Et Al

Release Date: 09/26/2006 
Label:  Ecm   Catalog #: 000732802   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Valentin SilvestrovArvo PärtGalina Ustvolskaya
Performer:  Alexei LubimovAlexander TrostianskyKyrill Rybakov
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 20 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The opening of this disc, “Misterioso,” is pure magic. The review copy was a minimally labeled CD with no booklet or tray card, only a page of press copy. Without looking at the printed material, I slipped the CD into the player. At first, I thought it was the wrong disc—a Baroque or early-Classical slow movement for violin and piano. But midway through the second phrase something sounds out of place, like one of those late-Romantic transcriptions of “early music.” The simple music veers gently off course, briefly into Schumann territory before the piano gets stuck on a diminished-seventh arpeggio and the melody drifts out of focus. Fast music follows: climbing scales, broken thirds, and tremolos straight out of the Baroque stylus Read more phantasticus. The piano fills in the bass and harmony with similar material, but sounding like Beethoven in a distant echo chamber. (Some of the violin’s echo-like repeated notes even pick up the rhythm of the motto from Beethoven’s Fifth.) The harmonies feature tritone-rich dominant sevenths and cycles of major, minor, and augmented thirds with juicy chromatic false relations. The music cycles among these elements, more like the thoughts of an insomniac circling sleep. A slow movement is more overtly melodic, but soon sinks into a series of very sultry ninth chords. The third movement, labeled Allegro vivace con moto, sounds like the slowest of all, fibrillating with no evident pulse and finally dissipating into silence. The piece is called Post scriptum. To what? Welcome to the world of Valentin Silvestrov.

Thanks to ECM’s skimpy material for the pre-release copy, I had to go elsewhere to find that Post scriptum is actually a violin sonata completed in 1991. It is a pendant to Widmung (“Dedication”), a larger work for violin and orchestra written for Gidon Kremer, who has recorded both works on a Teldec CD that’s currently unavailable, but which this performance makes me urgently want to hear. Post scriptum’s first movement reminds me of the famous passage in the first movement of Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, where the (solo) pianist is instructed to hold the pedal down throughout an entire recitative passage, thereby blurring adjacent pitches together, followed shortly thereafter by cascading diminished-sevenths and elsewhere by tremolo-like passagework in the left hand.

Lubimov hasn’t recorded the “Tempest,” but I did manage to hear his “Moonlight,” which seemed relatively matter-of-fact. However, his Chopin First Ballade (on Erato, currently unavailable) illuminates many of Lubimov’s strengths in this new CD. If I may digress, Lubimov plays the opening melody of the Ballade slowly, with hesitations that are longer than expected, but without seeming to swoon or distend the line. The repeated chords in the accompaniment are differentiated so that they throb or reverberate. His playing has Innigkeit, a difficult-to-translate word (literally, intimacy), characterized here by a sense of lingering, as if over private thoughts, but without dragging the tempo. He pulls this off wonderfully. Repeated chords in the Ballade’s later faster section have some of the same pointed quality as the insistent repeated notes in the melody of the first movement of his “Moonlight”—or for that matter, the repeated notes of the Silvestrov. And the ending of the Ballade is exaggeratedly slow with long pauses, very nicely timed.

All of which demonstrates why Lubimov so wonderfully inhabits the music on this new ECM disc. He is utterly in sympathy with Silvestrov’s very private world of sonic reflections and fugitive allusions reverberating into infinity, which have a sense of mirrors-in-mirrors that’s much more apt than Arvo Pärt’s piece of that title. And violinist Alexander Trostiansky has an exquisite touch and tone that meshes perfectly with the differentiated resonances of Lubimov’s repeated notes. The pair also shapes most beautifully the craggy lines of Galina Ustvolskaya’s 1952 Violin Sonata, with her characteristically insistent note-against-note counterpoint in a single tempo that looks so dangerously monotonous on the page. Much of this piece deals with an insistently reiterated five-note motto on two pitches a perfect fourth apart. There’s more to it, of course, but what music she makes of such limited means! (She makes Bach sound as profligate with his material as Mozart or Schubert.) Towards the climax of the nearly 20-minute work, the relentless pulse is arrested ever so slightly by what might be breath marks in the music, or perhaps just a brilliant interpretive decision. And the ending (which I’ll leave as a surprise) is yet another moment of sheer magic in this marvelous recital.

The midpoint of the disc is the first performance of Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel that I can actually bear to listen to. The solo line has been transferred from violin to the much dryer clarinet, with its natural sense of inhaling and exhaling—an inspired idea that originated with the excellent clarinetist in this performance, Kirill Rybakov. This piece’s purposefully naive simplicity might have been radical in 1978 Europe, but in its way, it’s as dated as the Darmstadt serialism its composer was reacting against. Having said that, some people are deeply affected by this piece, and this clarinet version is a beautiful way to hear it.

The title work, Silvestrov’s 1996 Misterioso, opens with dissonant piano and harsh clarinet sounds—no pretty thirds here, although echoed repeated notes (a characteristic Silvestrov gesture) and low tremolos are again part of the sensuous mix. Increasingly evident as the piece progresses is the sound of air blown through the clarinet, and by the end, this and the low piano suggest the rumble of distant thunder as the tide washes over the shore. Evidently, it was originally written for the clarinetist to play both parts, which explains its sparseness and the presumably unfingered air sounds. This is a darker, lonelier (and somewhat more monotonous) piece than Post scriptum, but not as dark as Silvestrov’s similarly titled Postludium, which Lubimov has recorded twice and which is discussed in Robert Carl’s excellent review of the second recording—which also contains his own insightful take on Silvestrov—in 27:1 (September/October 2003).

Ustvolskaya’s Trio is one of her earliest extant works, written in 1949 (again, no thanks to ECM’s pre-release data). Its opening clarinet melody betrays the influence of her teacher Shostakovich, but the rest of the piece is grittier. The slow movement inhabits the spare, melancholy space of the Pastorale from Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat. In the third movement, we are already at Ustvolskaya’s characteristic note-against-note counterpoint and explosive repeated notes. Bravo to the performers, in whose hands this works blooms with color and ardent lyricism.

The music on this disc reveals new secrets with each repeated listening. The playing is gorgeous. Even the timings of the pieces are symmetrically matched. A superb production that leaves me wanting to hear more from everyone involved except you-know-who.

FANFARE: Eric J. Bruskin
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Violin and Piano "Post scriptum" by Valentin Silvestrov
Performer:  Alexei Lubimov (Piano), Alexander Trostiansky (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1990-1991; Ukraine 
Misterioso by Valentin Silvestrov
Performer:  Kyrill Rybakov (Clarinet), Kyrill Rybakov (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996; Ukraine 
Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt
Performer:  Kyrill Rybakov (Clarinet), Alexei Lubimov (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1978; USSR 
Trio for Violin, Clarinet and Piano by Galina Ustvolskaya
Performer:  Kyrill Rybakov (Clarinet), Alexei Lubimov (Piano), Alexander Trostiansky (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; USSR 
Sonata for Violin and Piano by Galina Ustvolskaya
Performer:  Alexander Trostiansky (Violin), Alexei Lubimov (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1952; USSR 

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