SIBELIUS Scene with Cranes. PÄRT Passacaglia. ŠERKŠNYTE? De Pofundis. SCHUMANN Fugue on the Name J. S. Bach, op. 60/6. NYMAN Read more class="ARIAL12bi">Trysting Fields. SCHUBERT Minuet No. 3 and Trios in d, D 89. TICKMAYER Lasset Uns Den Nicht Zerteilen. AUERBACH Sogno de Stabat Mater. PIAZZOLLA Melody in f (Canto de Octubre). PELECIS Flowering Jasmine. SCHNITTKE Fragment
TICKMAYER Hymns in Memoriam Andrei Tarkovsky. FRANCK Piano Quintet in f. KANCHELI Silent Prayer
These two releases have come out so close to one another they almost constitute a single two-volume work. Both show Gidon Kremer at his height of comprehensive musicianship—a brilliant soloist, compelling conductor/leader of his own ensemble, and a challenging (in more than one sense of the word) programmer.
The Nonesuch release is a set of shorter works for a medium I dearly love, and whose relative rarity in the classical music world I always find puzzling, the string orchestra. There are few sounds more full, mysterious, and yet intimate. The only works that involve other instruments are the Sibelius (two subtle clarinets), the Auerbach and Pelecis (vibraphone), and the Schnittke (harpsichord). The latter three have the effect of their soloists as a primary color against a rich monochromatic background. Kremer is the soloist in all the works but the ?erk?nyt?, Schumann, Kovacs, Shostakovich, and Schnittke.
Kremer dedicates the album to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oligarch who’s been imprisoned, many think, because he challenged Vladimir Putin too overtly. Kremer believes he is a true advocate of democracy, and enlarges the dedication to cover all dissidents persecuted for their beliefs. (Remember, I said it was challenging!)
The program falls into three sets of works. First there are pieces by repertoire composers (Sibelius, Schumann, Schubert, and Shostakovich). All are in the spirit of what we expect, except that the Schumann begins as a very Bachian fugue that gradually reveals the exuberance of its creator, and the Shostakovich is a melancholy waltz, quite restrained.
Next are better-known contemporary composers. Arvo Pärt’s Passacaglia (2003/07) has a surprising degree of chromaticism in its relentless build. Michael Nyman’s Trysting Fields (1992) fits beautifully between Schumann’s neobaroquisms and Schubert’s wistful dance. Astor Piazzolla’s Melody in F Minor (Canto de Octubre). (1992) is appropriately bittersweet, and the Alfred Schnittke Fragment (no date, perhaps posthumous?) is gnarly, angular, almost entirely monophonic, a battle between the strings and harpsichord that builds up a frightening head of steam.
Finally, there are the composers we know less well. Raminta ?erk?nyt? (b. 1975, Lithuanian—the album lacks almost any useful program information, so this comes from the Web) has written a propulsive work that reminds me of Bernard Herrmann scores such as his soundtracks for Psycho and Fahrenheit 451. Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer (b. 1963) is an ethnic Hungarian from Serbia, and his work is a neoclassical dash that lasts little more than a minute. Georgs Pelecis (Latvian, b. 1947) has written a sweet set of variations for vibraphone and strings that seems a fluid blend of folk and jazzy elements. And Lera Auerbach’s (b. 1973, Russia; now longtime resident of Hanover and New York) “dream” of the Stabat Mater takes Pergolesi’s original and rewrites it. I think she’s quite successful at this, in that the original keeps coming in and out of focus in a way that one can never seem to pin down the transition points.
The ECM release is more focused, in that it features only three larger works, though it has the same sort of mixing of old and new. Tickmayer returns, though his 1986/2004 piece here couldn’t be more different than the one on Nonesuch—it’s a stream of moody meditations, very much in the spirit of the Eastern European nostalgia so current today (which doesn’t keep it from being quite lovely). Reading in the notes about him, it becomes clear he’s a stylistic butterfly in a manner similar to Schnittke, though perhaps even more wide-ranging, as he has a deep involvement in progressive improvisation and rock. The Franck is of course a joy to hear, a work that seems to be for the moment on the margins of chamber-music taste, and certainly should not be. Kremer et al. make a strong case for its reconsideration, and the notes (uncredited, but his, I suspect) draw a direct connection from the second movement to the other works on the program.
And then there’s the Giya Kancheli (b. 1935). When I first encountered the music of this Georgian composer, I was blown away by the combinations of extreme fragility with expressionistic eruptions. Over time, I became less enthusiastic, as the music seemed to become more predictable. But Silent Prayer (2007) grabs me. It’s a duo for violin and cello with strings, but with a mysterious taped voice (sounding childlike, if not a child); excruciatingly high, precarious violin writing (a throttled sigh or cry); sudden cadential explosions; shifts of character that suggest the sharp cuts between different scenarios in a film (for example, where did that tambura come from?). In short I find myself following its almost half-hour course rapt.
These are all stunning performances, the production values of both are excellent, and the music is quite beautiful, but cannot be consigned to mere balm. One feels a questing spirit and Kremer’s compatriots (both composers and performers) hard at work, yet also immersed in the spirit of play.
Kuolema: Scene with Cranes, Op. 44 no 2by Jean Sibelius Conductor:
Period: Romantic Written: 1903-1906; Finland Date of Recording: December 8/11, 2008 Venue: Latvian Radio, Riga, Latvia Length: 6 Minutes 01 Secs.
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