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USTVOLSKAYA • SILVESTROV • KANCHELI

WORKS FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA

Galina USTVOLSKAYA • Valentin SILVESTROV • Giya KANCHELI


  • Elisaveta Blumina, piano
  • Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra
  • Thomas Sanderling

With two world première recordings, this programme highlights the Romantic and spiritual side of contemporary music from Russia and Eastern Europe. Galina Ustvolskaya’s early Concerto expresses a vision of beauty and suffering in a tonal language quite unlike her later works. Giya Kancheli’s Sio or ‘breeze’ is notable for its striking use of silence, as well as modal tunes, bass drones and wide dynamic extremes derived from Georgian folk music. Silvestrov’s devotional Hymn reflects his approach to music as “a song the world sings about itself”. Elisaveta Blumina’s acclaimed recording of Silvestrov’s solo piano works can be heard on GP639.

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Tracklist

Ustvolskaya, Galina Ivanovna
1
Concerto for Piano, Strings and Timpani (original version) (1946) (00:18:41)
Silvestrov, Valentin
 
4 Postludes for Piano and String Orchestra (2004) (00:17:00 )
2
No. 1. Larghetto - Andante * (00:05:42)
3
No. 2. Moderato, con moto (poco rubato) * (00:03:38)
4
No. 3. Larghetto, con moto (poco rubato) * (00:02:50)
5
No. 4. Larghetto, con moto (poco rubato) * (00:04:38)
Kancheli, Giya
6
Sio (1998) * (00:16:20)
Silvestrov, Valentin
7
Hymn - 2001 (2001) (00:06:14)
* World Première Recording
Total Time: 00:58:03

The Artist

Blumina, Elisaveta

Prizewinner of the Award Echo Classic, Elisaveta Blumina is much in demand in the most prestigious concert halls of Europe. A child prodigy, she made her concert début as a soloist at the age of sixteen with the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra directed by Alexander Polyanichko with Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1. She continued her studies at the University of Music and Theatre in Hamburg and later at the Conservatoire in Berne, with teachers including András Schiff, Evgeni Koroliov, Radu Lupu and Bruno Canino. She won the the International Brahms Piano Competition which culminated in her acclaimed recording of Brahms’ Piano Sonata No. 2 and Klavierstücke, Op. 76. She is recognised as one of the most important interpreters of modern Russian repertoire, and her Mieczysław Weinberg recordings have won wide acclaim. Her career has taken her to venues such as the Berlin Philharmonic, Laeisz-Halle in Hamburg and Carnegie Hall in New York.

www.blumina.com

Founded by Karl Munchinger in 1945, the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra has held a prominent position in the international orchestral world for some seven decades. Munchinger, who was principal conductor of the orchestra for over forty years, was able to attract a small group of élite players in the early days to realise his vision of a completely new and exemplary way of interpreting works by Johann Sebastian Bach and the Viennese classicists. Dennis Russell Davies, who was principal conductor from 1995 to 2006, re-defined the orchestra’s artistic priorities to enhance the orchestra’s versatility. Under his directorship the orchestra was able to distinguish itself, both in the concert hall as well as in the recording studio, with repertoire from the 20th and 21st centuries including specially commissioned compositions, particularly from the composers Phillip Glass and Giya Kancheli. With Davies, a complete edition of all 107 symphonies by Joseph Haydn was recorded live for Sony BMG in a unique series of concerts sponsored by Daimler Benz, extending over an eleven-year period ending in 2009. A recording of works by Bartok and Lutoslawski appeared on the ECM label in 2012 conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, who remains associated with the orchestra as conductor laureate. Since 2006, Michael Hofstetter, the internationally renowned specialist for authentic performing practice, has been the orchestra’s principal conductor. From the 2013-14 season the young conductor Matthias Foremny has served as chief conductor of the orchestra. For its exceptional achievements, the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra was awarded the 2008 European Chamber Music Prize by the European Cultural Foundation. The orchestra is supported by the Land Baden-Württemberg, the City of Stuttgart and Robert Bosch GmbH.

Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra
Photo: Jona Laffin Klein

Thomas Sanderling was born in Leningrad on October 2, 1942. His father, celebrated conductor Kurt Sanderling, was forced to flee Germany in 1936. Young Thomas studied first at the Leningrad Conservatory, then at the Hochschule fur Musik in East Berlin. His first important post came at the age of 24, when he was appointed director of the Halle Opera. By his mid-twenties he was conducting in all East Germany’s principal orchestras and opera houses, including the Dresden Staatskapelle and the Leipzig Gewandhaus, and won the Berlin Critics’ Prize for his performances at the Komische Oper Berlin.

In the 1970s he developed a friendship with the declining Shostakovich, who presented Sanderling with scores to his Thirteenth and Fourteenth symphonies. Sanderling later led the German premieres of those controversial works. Sanderling’s premiere recording of Shostakovich’s Michaelangelo Suite directly led to his becoming assistant to both Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein.

Despite his close association with the music of Dmitry Shostakovich, his repertory is broad, encompassing Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, and Dvorak, as well as moderns like Karl Weigl and Americans Menotti, Barber, and Tobias Picker. He has conducted a mixture of orchestras worldwide, generally to critical acclaim, and made a number of successful recordings. He has also developed an equally respected reputation in opera, particularly for performances in the most important operatic centers in Germany, Austria, and Scandinavia.

The Composer

The Georgian composer Giya Kancheli was born in 1935 and studied at the Tbilisi Conservatoire. Now living in Belgium, he is one of the many composers from the former Soviet Union whose music has only become familiar in the West since the 1990s. Although his works have explored the elemental subjects of grief, fear, solitude and protest, they also touch on topics such as nostalgia and innocence. His personal credo is perhaps best expressed in his own words: the music’, like life itself, is inconceivable without romanticism. Romanticism is a high dream of the past, present, and future—a force of invincible beauty which towers above, and conquers, the forces of ignorance, bigotry, violence, and evil.’

Commentators have observed that the distinctive sonorities of Kancheli’s music are born out of his use of silence. Indeed, Kancheli himself has affirmed that what fascinates him most is ‘the mysterious silence that precedes the emergence of a tone’. A striking feature of his music is its use of silence as a means of heightening the listener’s impressions and responses. Many of the composer’s other defining traits, including modal tunes, bass drones and wide dynamic extremes, are derived from Georgian folk music. When these factors are associated with images of Georgian landscape and Georgian folk traditions, the result is a very distinctive sound world such as the one we experience in Sio (a Georgian word for ‘breeze’).

Valentin Silvestrov was born on 30 September 1937 in Kiev. He came to music relatively late, at the age of fifteen, and was initially self-taught. From 1955 to 1958 he took courses at an evening music school while training to become a civil engineer: from 1958 to 1964 he studied composition and counterpoint, respectively, with Boris Lyatoshinsky and Lev Revutsky at Kiev Conservatory. He then taught at a music studio for several years. He has been a freelance composer in Kiev since 1970.

Silvestrov is considered one of the leading representatives of the “Kiev avant-garde”, which came to public attention around 1960 and was violently criticized by the proponents of the conservative Soviet musical aesthetic. In the 1960s and 1970s his music was hardly played in his native city; premieres, if given at all, were heard only in Russia, primarily in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), or in the West. His Spectrums for chamber orchestra, for example, was premiered to spectacular acclaim by the Leningrad Philharmonic under the baton of Igor Blashkov in 1965. In 1968 the same conductor gave the premiere of the Second Symphony.

The works of the young composer were awarded the Koussevitzky Prize in 1967, and the Hymn for Six Orchestral Groups earned Silvestrov the festival’s honorary title of 1970.

Despite these successful performances in the West (the composer himself was not allowed to attend them!), Silvestrov’s music met with no response in his own country and tended to remain “sub rosa.” The avant-gardist tag created obstacles at every turn. For a long time his works were at least heard on the periphery of the official music scene, thanks to the enthusiasm of some performers.

This situation gradually changed with Silvestrov’s growing international acclaim. One of his earliest champions was the American pianist and conductor Virko Baley, an aficionado and longtime advocate of contemporary Ukrainian music in general and Silvestrov’s works in particular. It was Baley who brought about the Las Vegas performances of Postludium for piano and orchestra (1985) and the symphony Exegi monumentum (1988) as well as a Valentin Silvestrov 50th Birthday Concert in New York (1988). Silvestrov became a visiting composer at the Almeida Music Festival in London (1989), Gidon Kremer’s Lockenhaus Festival in Austria (1990), and various festivals in Denmark, Finland, and Holland.

Since the end of the 1980s, the number of performances has increased, even in Russia and the Ukraine. Silvestrov’s music was heard at the “Alternative” New Music Festival in Moscow (1989), “Five Evenings with the Music of Valentin Silvestrov” (Ekaterinburg, 1992), “Sofia Gubaidulina and Her Friends” (St. Petersburg, 1994), “Sofia Gubaidulina, Arvo Part, Valentin Silvestrov” (Moscow, 1995), and the Silvestrov 60th Birthday Festival (Kiev, 1998). At the latter event, a scholarly conference devoted to Silvestrov was held at the Tchaikovsky National Academy of Music of the Ukraine (formerly Kiev Conservatory).

During the 1990s, Silvestrov’s music was heard throughout Europe as well as in Japan and the United States. In 1998-9, he was a visiting fellow of the German Academic Exchange Service in Berlin, where three of his works have been premiered to date: Metamusic (March 1993), Dedication for violin and orchestra (November 1993), and the Sixth Symphony (August 2002).

Both in his earlier avant-garde period and after his stylistic volte-face of 1970, Silvestrov has preserved his independence of outlook. In recent decades he has dispensed with the conventional compositional devices of the avant-garde and discovered a style comparable to western “post-modernism”. The name he has given to this style is “metamusic”, a shortened form of “metaphorical music”.

Of all the many translations of the Greek combinative particle meta (post-, supra-, ultra-, extra-, etc.) Silvestrov prefers “supra” or “ultra”. He regards metamusic as “a semantic overtone on music”. In a certain sense, “metamusic” is also a synonym for a universal style (a concept that Silvestrov has been using for some time) and a universal language. He understands it to mean “a general ‘lexicon’ that belongs to no one but can be used by anyone in his or her own way”. His work has affinities with the age of the “classical” fin-de-siecle, especially Gustav Mahler, with whom Silvestrov is often compared. The difference is that the lexicon of today is unlimited. This limitlessness forces composers to search for the lost ontological meaning of music as art. In Silvestrov’s view a view that reveals the lyric basis of his art regardless of the period in his career one of the crucial prerequisites for the continued existence of music resides in melody, which he also regards in an expanded sense of the term. This has found expression in the remarkable role that vocal music has played in his musical output. Silvestrov is the author of two large and many shorter song cycles in addition to isolated songs and cantatas, usually on poems by classical authors. In his relation to poetry, he avoids trying to disturb the music inherent in the poems themselves and attempts to subordinate himself to it. “Poetry...is the salvaging of all that is most essential, namely, melody as a holistic and inalienable organism. Either this organism is there, or it is not. For it seems to me that music is song in spite of everything, even when it is unable to sing in a literal sense. Not a philosophy, not a system of beliefs, but the song of the world about itself, and at the same time a musical testament to existence.” This same approach also governs Silvestrov’s instrumental music, which is always richly infused with both logical and melodic tension.

Galina Ustvolskaya was born in Petrograd in 1919, educated in Leningrad, and died in St Petersburg in 2006. The name changes of her native city reflect some of the tumultuous political and social upheavals in Russian history during the course of the twentieth century: revolution, Stalinism, glasnot, to mention but three. It was amid such turbulence that Ustvolskaya lived and composed. Much has been written about her professional and personal relationship with Shostakovich, but she took grave exception to the fact that she was always defined in terms of her gender and by whom she was taught—Shostakovich. In 1994 she declared that not once ‘during my studies at the Conservatoire, which I spent in his class, was Shostakovich’s music close to me. Nor was his personality’. Even at the age of 80 she complained that her music was still being compared to Shostakovich’s rather than being judged on its own terms. Ustvolskaya believed that she was patronised as a woman composer, with the implication that in some ways she was perceived as a lesser artist. Drawing comparisons between her own creative approach and that of her fellow Russian composers, she acidly remarked that the men were never defined solely in terms of their sex and who their teachers were. To lend force to her argument, she said how unlikely it is that one would come across an article beginning ‘Rodion Shchedrin is a male composer and pupil of Yuri Shaporin…’

Words like ‘reclusive’ and ‘uncompromising’ are regularly used in connection with Ustvolskaya. She also had a reputation for being a ‘religious-ecstatic’ composer. Many of her purely instrumental works, for instance, have religious titles, but she maintained that her works ‘are not religious in a literary sense, but are filled with a religious spirit’.

Reviews

“A marvelous release with everything right: good music, good playing, and good production. The performances are superb and the sound a noteworthy example of what a recorded piano should sound like.” – American Record Guide

“Excellent performances are given throughout from Blumina and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra under Thomas Sanderling. This music isn’t about virtuosity or high-level technical skills, but the sheer amount of rhythmic unison and the radical simplicity of the textures make perfect ensemble and tuning a key requirement, and that is exactly what we hear.” – Fanfare

“…very worthwhile, contentful release. Both Blumina and Sanderling/Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra put a good deal of care and commitment into the realizations. The results are quite exemplary. Bravo!” – Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

“Elisaveta Blumina handles Silvestrov’s silky textures with sensitivity, and the orchestra supports her with easy precision. This is another album from Grand Piano, the commendable label focusing on piano music that is off the beaten track and repeatedly presenting the most beautiful discoveries.” – Spiegel Online

Klassik heute

“Interpretations and sound quality score quite high marks, as do the booklet notes.” – Klassik heute

Concerti

“The musicians find great empathy with the spirit of this music and achieve an overwhelming intensity…transitions are managed seamlessly and the melting tone is constantly soothing on the ear. ” – Concerti

“This is a unique coupling occupying itself with Russia’s ‘new spiritualism’.” – MusicWeb International

Musical Toronto

“Elisaveta Blumina, Dublin-based, is the capable soloist, and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra play well for Londoner Thomas Sanderling, whose father conducted the second performances of many of Shostakovich’s works.” – Musical Toronto