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Valentin Silvestrov: Sacred Works / Hobdych, Kiev Chamber Choir

Release Date: 02/23/2010 
Label:  Ecm   Catalog #: 001357402  
Composer:  Valentin Silvestrov
Conductor:  Mykola Hobdych
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kiev Chamber Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

SILVESTROV Liturgical Chants. 2 Spiritual Songs. 2 Spiritual Chants. Psalms of David. Diptych. Alleluia Mykola Hobdych, cond; Kiev ChC ECM NEW 2117 (75: 33)

Valentin Silvestrov (b. 1937) is one of the last Eastern European composers of his generation to be “discovered” … as usual, it seems, by ECM’s mastermind, Manfred Eicher. I’ve reviewed a fair amount of the composer’s music so far, and have interviewed him in Fanfare 31:3. I admire his music, and Read more there’s no reason to go into a detailed recap of my thoughts on it here; they remain unchangedly positive.

What I can comment on is Silvestrov’s a cappella choral writing, which is at once deeply traditional in sound and highly original. All these works were written in 2005 and 2006 (except for the Diptych , which dates from 1995). So they are cut largely from the same cloth.

The sound is genuinely mesmerizing. There seem to be a few reasons for this. First, the music revels in lush but precisely calibrated tonal harmonies. The result is consistently lovely, in a way that seems personal without being cheesy. Many of the harmonies and progressions have, to American ears, a tinge of jazz and music theater, but that’s only because of their enriched pitch content; I doubt Silvestrov had anything like that in mind. And indeed, I am sure they touch on a host of idioms from Ukrainian liturgy that I don’t know.

Beyond this, there are specific vocal techniques in play. One is to play with the already reverberant acoustics of the recording space (Kiev’s Cathedral of the Dormition), by extending and overlapping voices, like a piano’s pedal. Another is to structure harmonies to reflect the position of tones where they occur in the overtone series off a low fundamental. Another is an extremely “liquid” style of vocal production that moves very continuously from note to note.

And most importantly, the music shifts harmonically in a remarkable manner. It’s chromatic in that there are a lot of shifts and surprising modulations. But they occur so smoothly that they are never like splices, or dramatic in a Wagnerian manner. Rather, the only way I can describe them is like effects of variable speed on an LP turntable. And yet they aren’t quite glissandos in the way we usually define them. It can be a little disorienting at first, but over time it takes on a genuinely dreamlike quality for the listener.

The result is a series of works one can really flow with. Silvestrov strikes me as an artist who continues to write music that is deeply rooted in his culture, and in a tradition of the sacred and the beautiful, and who yet also continues to put his personal stamp on it, almost despite himself. The only composer who I think is his rival in this quality is Arvo Pärt.

The performances are composer-supervised, and so all the (albeit subtly) unusual/remarkable things about them are obviously exactly what Silvestrov wants. It’s elevated music-making, a sustained prayer.

FANFARE: Robert Carl

If you have been seduced by Silvestrov’s orchestral music - and I admit to a complete infatuation with the Fifth Symphony - then his vocal music may intrigue you. It’s inevitable that citations of near-contemporaries and stylistic neighbours, such as Pärt and Kancheli, are made, though they are not always wholly relevant. Silvestrov’s music for voice is seldom static, rather it is ecstatic, full of expressive gestures and a feeling of both deep-rootedness and also - simultaneously - a remarkable lightness. This can’t easily be explained, but it strikes one repeatedly. Partly it’s to do with the varied vocal textures Silvestrov employs, and his use of vocal soloists adds to this sense of personalisation. Partly too it’s the nature of the texts that he sets. Mainly, though, it’s to do with his remarkable ear for sonority.

His sacred music is compact, full of incident, and remarkably bathed in lyric impulse. The Alleluia, from the Four Spiritual Songs, is richly affirmative. But listen to Bless the Lord, O my soul, where we find that the deep basses, so redolent of Orthodoxy, are subject to Silvestrov’s drifting harmonies to create a very specific and powerful, expressive mood, one that owes nothing to ‘Holy Minimalism’ and everything to a subtle sound and rhythmic palette. The vocal lines in The Creed roll ever-onward either singly or in complex-sounding conjunctions and configurations, creating a sense of motion wholly at odds with ideas of mere plangency and vertical patterns. This can be heard too in the Cherubic Hymn where urgency and a compensatory slowing down are held in balance. If you suspect that a ‘halo’ of sound is the constituent feature of a disc such as this, you will think again, given the active components of the writing.

It’s true that effulgent gentleness floods the Ave Maria, but then, why should it not? And the melancholy spaces in the first of the Psalms of David are notable too. For Silvestrov at his most simply affecting you should turn to the Testament, the second of his Diptych, written in 1995 to a poem by Taras Shevchenko.

Texts are not provided. The recorded sound is marvellously vivid, the performances ranging from bass-hewn Eastern Orthodoxy to Elysian refinement, carried on the winds of Silvestrov’s meaningful harmonic shifts. A splendid disc then, for those open to its riches.

-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Liturgical Chants by Valentin Silvestrov
Conductor:  Mykola Hobdych
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kiev Chamber Chorus
Spiritual Songs (2) by Valentin Silvestrov
Conductor:  Mykola Hobdych
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kiev Chamber Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Spiritual Chants (2) by Valentin Silvestrov
Conductor:  Mykola Hobdych
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kiev Chamber Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Two Psalms of David by Valentin Silvestrov
Conductor:  Mykola Hobdych
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kiev Chamber Chorus
Diptych by Valentin Silvestrov
Conductor:  Mykola Hobdych
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kiev Chamber Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1995 
Alleluia by Valentin Silvestrov
Conductor:  Mykola Hobdych
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kiev Chamber Chorus
Period: 20th Century 

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