Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Beatitudes. Schubert Quintet (Unfinished
). Der Abschied
Joan Jeanrenaud (vc)
NONESUCH 529776-2 (68:46)
Vladimir Martynov (b.1946) is another of what I call the “Mystic Minimalists,” composers (mostly from Eastern Europe and the Caucasus) who write slow, spacious, tonal, and repetitive music, often informed by spiritual concerns and traditions (for just a couple
of examples, the influence of Orthodox liturgy is everywhere in the music of Pärt, and I hear a similar bent in the work of Valentin Silvestrov). Martynov is among the most extreme of the group in his devotional practice, having foresworn composition during the 1980s to research and reconstruct Orthodox chant at a research monastery (my term) near Moscow. I also feel that he has a particular profile as a composer who writes meta-music, music based on other pieces, something that paradoxically erases his individuality and yet also affirms a very special, personal vision.
The three works on the program span a rough decade.
(1998) is a simple phrase, about eight measures, obsessively repeated, with slight variations of texture and harmony on each pass. It’s a form of meditation where the chanting of a mantra leads to an epiphany. That ecstasy is symbolic, as the piece is only about five minutes, but it suggests an almost infinite expanse beyond its conclusion.
Schubert Quintet (Unfinished)
(2009) is in fact a recomposition of the famous C-Major Quintet, an exceptionally nervy undertaking. Martynov takes selected phrases from the opening and slow movements of the Schubert and explores each progression from a multitude of perspectives. The result is a sort of underwater Schubert, floating and gliding with no sure purpose and yet somehow quite natural. This is in many ways appropriate, as the Schubert Adagio is one of the great early examples of a timeless music (in the biz the term is “non-teleological,” or non-goal-directed). Martynov doesn’t better the master, but I think he does justify the risk he’s taken by making something haunting; one hears the source in dialog with the remaker, in an interplay of love, nostalgia, and a delicately tragic sense.
Those elements come to fullest fruition in
(2006), a 40-minute movement that is the big payoff of the program. In this case the work’s source is the last movement of Mahler’s
Das Lied von der Erde,
and its program is derived from Martynov’s deathbed vigil with his father, evoking the rise and fall of breath from a soul passing from this life (having experienced almost exactly the same a couple of years back, I can testify that Martynov has done his homework here). Isolated chords and fragmentary progressions from the Mahler fade in and out, stopping, then mysteriously restarting. Periodically the actual Mahler will blossom, in an anguished display of emotion. The effect is a bit like a subterranean spring breaking through the surface of Martynov’s more spare interpretation. It feels also a bit to me as though the actual Mahler is playing all the way through, mostly unheard, and then emerges to remind us of its presence, its reality. The piece is long, it
get tiresome or lethargic, but it doesn’t. Repeated listenings have confirmed that it justifies its dimensions.
I’m not fully convinced of the greatness of this music, but I
convinced of its integrity and seriousness of purpose. And when it seems that so much of contemporary culture is devoted to finding the most trivial and demeaning aspects of itself to celebrate, I am so moved by this work that I don’t want to quibble in the ranking game. It’s real art.
And the Kronos should be saluted for its advocacy. This music obviously touches the players’ souls and is in their blood. And the quintet gives a tender opportunity for them to reunite with their original cellist, Joan Jeanrenaud, adding another dimension of poignancy to the proceedings. Highly recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Carl
Works on This Recording
The Beatitudes by Vladimir Martynov
Period: 21st Century
Schubert-Quintet (Unfinished) by Vladimir Martynov
Period: 21st Century
Der Abschied by Vladimir Martynov
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