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Leonid Desyatnikov: The Leaden Echo

Desyatnikov / Mints / Rysanov / Purefoy / Lednev
Release Date: 07/12/2011 
Label:  Quartz Records   Catalog #: 2087   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Leonid Desyatnikov
Performer:  Roman MintsMaxim RysanovDmitri BulgakovAnton Dressler,   ... 
Conductor:  Fedor Lednev
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 3 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DESYATNIKOV Return 1. Du côté de chez Swan 2. Variations on the Obtaining of a Dwelling 3. Wie der alte Leiermann 4. The Leaden Echo 5. Moscow Nights: Theme 6 1 Dmitri Bulgakov (ob); Read more class="SUPER12">1 Anton Dressler (cl); 1,4,5,6 Roman Mints, 1,6 Anna Panina (vn); 1 Maxim Rysanov, 5 Serj Poltavsky (va); 1 Kristine Blaumane, 3 Boris Andrianov, 5 Evgeny Rumyantsev, 5 Petr Kondrashin (vc); 2,3 Alexei Goribol, 2 Leonid Desyatnikov, 4 Jacob Katsnelson (pn); 5 William Purefoy (ct); 5 Pavel Stepin (db); 5 Fedor Lednev, cond; 6 Homecoming Strings QUARTZ QTZ 2087 (63:23 Text and Translation)

Don’t take this as gospel, but I remember reading some years ago that of all the musicians who ever lived, half are alive now. That must hold true for composers, too, because, despite my having heard music by more than 10,000 of them, here is yet another who is new to me. Leonid Desyatnikov is quite prolific, having written a symphony, four operas, several cantatas, as well as numerous vocal and instrumental compositions. He has also been quite active in the film world, where he has won several awards.

Desyatnikov seeks the impossible ideal of uniting ages, traditions, and cultures into an integral worldview. To that end, one hears influences from many musical traditions, some as far afield as those of India and Japan. He describes his style as “the emancipation of consonance, the transformation of the banal, minimalism with a human face.” I concur with this assessment, especially if he means by “minimalism with a human face” that his repetition stops well short of the ad nauseam repetition that curses most Minimalists. Desyatnikov knows the musically effective limits of repetition, and rarely exceeds those limits. As a consequence, I enjoyed this CD far more than most others that have even a hint of Minimalism attending them. He enjoys contrasting simple melodic lines with more static and dissonant interludes. There is often an icy “northern” feeling to his music that reminds me of the music of certain Finnish composers, such as Rautavaara and Sallinen. At other times, there is a sense of nostalgia, akin to a longing to return home. Indeed, mood-setting seems to be paramount in importance to this composer (surely a sine qua non for anyone writing film music).

The CD opens with one of Desyatnikov’s more recent (2006) works, Return. It is based upon several ostinati, and meshed with the melancholy that pervades much Russian and Soviet music. In this work, there is an evolution of thematic material toward a final statement based on gagaku , the ancient ceremonial music of Japan. This is done through expounding a particular note sequence in the tempered scale (via the Western oboe, clarinet, and strings) that finds its resolution in the untempered gagaku source.

Du côté de chez Swan for two pianos is based on “The Swan” from Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals. It begins with an ostinato in the upper register of one of the pianos, below which a series of rhythmically complex figures is heard. All of this gradually transmogrifies into the well-known tune. Thereafter, fragments of the tune or its accompaniment are heard in various guises, along with new material. The whole effect might be described as what one might obtain if one were to somehow assemble two different jigsaw puzzles together in a random fashion and view the resulting picture. The composer admits to “traces of fascination” with Ligeti, and indeed, the structure of the work does seem to owe something to the Austro-Hungarian master. I hasten to say that the piece works much better than my description might imply.

Variations on the Obtaining of a Dwelling for cello and piano is based, according to the notes, on the music of Joseph Haydn, specifically his “Farewell” Symphony. However, I also hear influence of Bach in this piece, especially in its opening, which evokes memories of his cello suites. Part of my perception might derive from the utterly pure sound and intonation produced by cellist Boris Andrianov, who approaches the work’s opening in a “period” performance style. Indeed, I would be delighted to hear this cellist perform the Bach solo suites. The simple, unaffected opening of the work eventually yields to more impassioned lines in the cello, culminating in some impressive climaxes, where the soloist floats on a sea of arpeggios. Along the way, the composer imitates the Indian tabla through pizzicati in the cello. The title of the piece suggests its program, that the composer has a place whence to go out into the world, and a place to come back home.

Wie der alte Leiermann was commissioned by Gidon Kremer for the Schubert Today project. Desyatnikov defines the genre of the piece as “not variations, not a fantasia, not a paraphrase. This is a commentary.” The commentary comes on the closing Lied of Schubert’s Winterreise, “Der Leiermann,” which is itself a static and rather proto-minimalist piece in its masterly depiction of the chill of winter. The composer invites the auditors of this piece to guess his reference therein “to Kremer’s exclusive repertoire.” I have no idea to what in particular he is referring here, but I can tell you that there are strong overtones of the D-Minor Partita of Bach, even down to the opening triad of its famous Chaconne. However, I cannot imagine that anyone could claim the Bach sonatas and partitas as his “exclusive repertoire.” I certainly don’t believe that Kremer would, despite the fact that his recording of these works ranks among the best.

The Leaden Echo is a product of 1991. It is a setting for countertenor and instruments of the eponymous poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and is dedicated to the St. Petersburg art scholar Arkady Ippolitov. Employing simple melodic lines and static underpinnings, the work maintains a Pre-Raphaelite aestheticism with its cult of beauty. Soloist William Purefoy has a beautiful vocal instrument, although it has more of a mezzo-soprano quality than what I usually envision to be the countertenor sound.

Balancing the opening work on the CD, the closing main theme from the film Moscow Nights evokes a sense of nostalgia and melancholy throughout its brief duration.

All the performances on this disc are exemplary and present the music in splendid fashion. Leonid Desyatnikov has something remarkable to say in his music, and I hope that many will afford themselves the opportunity to hear him say it.

FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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Works on This Recording

Return, for oboe, clarinet, 2 violins, viola, cello & tape by Leonid Desyatnikov
Performer:  Roman Mints (Violin), Maxim Rysanov (Viola), Dmitri Bulgakov (Oboe),
Anton Dressler (Clarinet), Kristina Blaumane (Cello), Anna Panina (Violin)
Written: 2006 
Date of Recording: 2009-10 
Venue:  Mosfilm Studios, Moscow 
Length: 10 Minutes 5 Secs. 
Du côté de chez Swan, for 2 pianos by Leonid Desyatnikov
Performer:  Alexei Goribol (Piano), Leonid Desyatnikov (Piano)
Written: 1995 
Date of Recording: 1995 
Venue:  GDRZ Studio 1, Moscow 
Length: 12 Minutes 34 Secs. 
Variations on Obtaining of a Dwelling, for cello & piano by Leonid Desyatnikov
Performer:  Boris Andrianov (Cello), Alexei Goribol (Piano)
Written: 1990 
Date of Recording: 2009-10 
Venue:  Academy of Choral Art, Moscow 
Length: 8 Minutes 34 Secs. 
Wie der alte Leiemann by Leonid Desyatnikov
Performer:  Jacob Katsnelson (Piano), Roman Mints (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Date of Recording: 2009-10 
Venue:  GDRZ Studio 1, Moscow 
Length: 14 Minutes 39 Secs. 
The Leaden Echo, for voice(s) & instruments by Leonid Desyatnikov
Performer:  Dmitri Vlassik (Timpani), Dmitri Sharov (Trombone), Pavel Stepin (Double Bass),
Yuri Kolosov (Trombone), Evgeny Rumyantsev (Cello), Serj Poltavsky (Viola),
Kirill Koloskov (Trombone), Roman Mints (Violin), Pyotr Kondrashin (Cello),
William Purefoy (Voice)
Conductor:  Fedor Lednev
Written: 1991 
Date of Recording: 2009-10 
Venue:  Mosfilm Studios, Moscow 
Length: 13 Minutes 49 Secs. 
Moscow Nights (Katya Izmailova): Main Theme by Leonid Desyatnikov
Performer:  Roman Mints (Violin)
Written: 1994 
Date of Recording: 2009-10 
Venue:  GDRZ Studio 1, Moscow 
Length: 3 Minutes 40 Secs. 

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