Radio Symphonieorchester Wien
- Metamusik (1992)
Symphony for piano and orchestra
for Alexei Lubimov
- Postludium (1984)
Symphonic poem for piano and orchestra
for Virko Baley
This recording is dedicated to my wife
Recorded April 2001, ORF Studio, Vienna
"It is very important for a composition to begin with an impulse. No matter whether powerful or gentle, it should be the result of a pre-existent energy that sets the composition in motion. Then the whole can unfold step by step." - Valentin Silvestrov
In an interview with the New Yorker, Arvo Part recently described Valentin Silvestrov as "one of the greatest composers of our time". These premiere recordings of "Metamusik" and "Postludium" made with Valentin Silvestrov's participation, underline Part's conviction, and emphasize the uniqueness of the Ukrainian composer's vision. They also serve to round out a portrait of the composer first sketched with 2001's Grammy-nominated chamber music album "leggiero, pesante"; the focus here is on "symphonic music", yet the term seems inadequate for Silvestrov's delicately -realized compositions - played with extraordinary restraint and fluidity by Alexei Lubimov with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra under Dennis Russell Davies.
Lubimov: "Valentin Silvestrov has created a cosmos unlike any other, with its own themes, characters and, above all, a very personal manner of thought, utterance and writing. A cosmos that has remained a unified whole, despite a marked stylistic shift - from avant-garde to the so-called "metaphorical style" - since the beginning of the Seventies. All of his works are like links in a chain that I can recognise, literally, with my fingers. Precisely notated improvisation inspired by illumination in a wakeful state or a dream: that is how I would describe the source of his artistic style. Silvestrov has truly mastered the art of so notating his visions that the interpreter can understand and translate them. But as simple and transparent as it seems (there is 'little' in the lines, but so very much between them), his music is a great challenge. It is the tiny details that demand such meticulous work from the interpreter. And recognising a free flow of music behind so much method is exceedingly difficult. … While recording the coda of 'Metamusik', I realised I was neither counting the values of notes and rests nor attempting to adhere to the articulation marks. I was playing absolutely intuitively, as if I could see the sounds and harmonies before me. The works on this CD can be understood as existential metaphors, parables about the inner life of music that opens a window on other worlds and eras. Outwardly, both 'Postludium' and 'Metamusik' are scored as piano concertos. But they have little to do with the genre, bearing more of a family resemblance to Scriabin's 'Prometheus' or Stravinsky's 'Movements'. Piano and orchestra do not compete, they complement each other and more: the orchestra often sounds like an expansion of the sonorities of the piano voice."
In the CD booklet, Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich observes that "both 'Postludium' and 'Metamusik' are symphonic works with a solo part tailored specifically to the subtle magic of the pianist Alexei Lubimov. Though the piano writing is monophonic throughout, there is no singing line, but swirling cascading textures. This enables the piano to articulate itself as an individual, subjective voice, but also as the medium of a sort of alienation, as if someone were speaking, not directly, but in an aside and as if in a dream. Perhaps the unique quality of the diction derives from the communicating subject being shown at the eternal moment of self-renunciation. More than ever, the orchestral sonorities are neither counterpart nor partner in dialogue, but complement, enveloping and enfolding the pianistic monologue, giving spatial dimension to the soliloquy."
"Metamusik" was commissioned from Valentin Silvestrov for the 14th Berlin Biennale of Music in 1993. It is dedicated to Alexei Lubimov and represents an important programmatic milestone along the composer's artistic path. "Postludium", written almost a decade earlier and dedicated to its first interpreter Virko Baley, can be considered a prototype for "Metamusik" in terms of its scoring, although it is, as Tatjana Frumkis has noted, "different in scale and structural approach, more in the mould of the Romantic concertos of Liszt, Schumann or Tchaikovsky."
Hot on the heels of ECM's previous disc of chamber music by Valentin Silvestrov comes this equally splendid offering of two related orchestral pieces. Alexei Lubimov, the composer's keyboard interpreter of choice, already has recorded Postludium for Sony, and there aren't enough differences between the two versions to worry any but the most compulsively fussy collectors. On the other hand, this new issue includes Metamusik, subtitled "Symphony for piano and orchestra", a very large, 40-minute single-movement work based on Postludium (which the composer dubs a "Symphonic poem for piano and orchestra").
Both works begin with the same violent gesture and employ the same methods of formal construction: out of episodes of tonal confusion or painful dissonance areas of pure melodic sweetness emerge, and these two types of music alternate, with the more turbulent passages gradually calming down with each recurrence until the piece comes to rest in silence. In the quiet moments the piano often plays solo or cooperates with the orchestra in delicate, chamber-music dialogues. The more anxious or tense episodes often oppose the soloist to the orchestra, sometimes in wide arpeggios across the entire keyboard or in music clearly at some harmonic distance from the accompanying textures. It's actually rather remarkable to note how frequently this sort of construction-essentially a sort of double variation form as Haydn originated and Beethoven made famous in the Adagio of his Ninth Symphony-appears in contemporary music today. Works recently reviewed here, ranging from Vasks' Second Symphony to John Luther Adams' In the White Silence, employ this same principle.
That said, Silvestrov is correct in making the distinction between symphony and symphonic poem. As befits its title, Postludium not only is more compact than Metamusik, it's also more colorfully scored and more concerned with momentary incident and textural variety. On the other hand, the larger work has a stronger linear thrust, a more austere instrumental palette, a more obvious emphasis on development of the initial thematic material, and a wider range of contrast between episodes, and so truly does come across, at least in comparison to Postludium, as more symphonic. Certainly pianist Alexei Lubimov understands the difference and plans his contributions accordingly. Neither work taxes his virtuosity from a purely technical point of view, but both (Metamusik especially) require tremendous concentration. Lubimov is aptly mercurial and full of fantasy in Postludium, by turns grand and touchingly lyrical in Metamusik, and it goes without saying that Dennis Russell Davies elicits excellent support from the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. ECM's sonics are equally marvelous: impactful and atmospheric.
Like all of the best contemporary composers (think of Dutilleux, Rautavaara, Vasks, or Adams, to name only four) Silvestrov is one of those artists who has achieved freedom from dogma and academic inhibition, and who writes in a recognizably personal style. It would be easy to call his alternation of simple tonalities with atonal or textural episodes "poly-stylistic" were it not for the fact that his works show such a strong unity of feeling and structure. But even if his music defies categorization-indeed perhaps for this reason-it deserves to be heard by a broad and sympathetic audience. It's marvelous, and so are these performances. [6/28/2003]