Recorded February 2006
Silvestrov wrote the pieces recorded here, scored for piano solo, string orchestra, and piano and strings, between 1996 and 2005, and they are all representative of his late, meditative, song-like style. After an early career as an experimentalist, Silvestrov embraced the radical simplicity - a style of tonal, melodic, and rhythmic transparency - that has won him many admirers in the general public, but little recognition by the academic community. It would be easy to hear his music as derivative, given the limited tonal palette to which he restricts himself; his apparently naive and artless approach, however, has an integrity and a genuinely lyrical impulse that make it hard to dismiss.
The 13 bagatelles for piano, which consist of waltzes, lullabies, serenades, and other familiar forms, are a record of performances the composer made before he notated them. They are not merely improvisations, though; while they are spontaneous-sounding and have rhythmic elasticity, they are obviously shaped with careful consideration of compositional design. Many of the instrumental works on the CD have a similar quality, particularly the waltz-like movements of Stille Musik (Silent Music), Abschiedsserenade, and the serenely ethereal Zwei Dialoge mit Nachwort. Der Bote (The Messenger) with its explicitly Mozartian allusions, is generally less compelling than the other pieces. Elegie, for strings, written in memory of his friend and colleague Ivan Karabitz, displays an astringent grief and emotional urgency that set it apart from Silvestrov's more meditative works. Munchener Kammerorchester, led by Christoph Poppen, and pianist Alexei Lubimov play with the restraint and delicacy the composer demands and the effect is frequently magical. ECM's sound is exemplary in its absolute clarity, presence, and balance.
Documentation of orchestral music by Valentin Silvestrov in Munich gained an unexpected extra dimension with the spontaneous decision to record the Ukrainian composer playing the piano before and after the 'official' session. The results, captured in the early morning and late afternoon, are fascinating, offering an intimate glimpse into Silvestrov's reflective musical language. The first half of this disc features Silvestrov alone. In the second half, Christoph Poppen directs the Munich Chamber Orchestra and Alexei Lubimov again reveals his deep affinity for Silvestrov's oeuvre. In all, a true 'composer portrait', in time for Valentin Silvestrov's 70th birthday.
Recorded in Munich last year and released in time for Valentin Silvestrov's 70th birthday on September 30, "Bagatellen und Serenaden" casts new light on the Ukrainian composer's work. A 'composer portrait' in quite a literal sense, incorporating exceptional performances of new orchestral music and music for piano and strings, the disc begins with Silvestrov himself playing a cycle of modestly titled "Bagatelles". The liner notes aptly quote Charles-Nicolas Cochin: "The genres usually referred to as small are only small when treated in a small minded way", and there is nothing trifling about the half hour of solo piano bagatelles that open this disc. Their documentation however was a spontaneous matter.
Early in the morning in the Himmelsfahrtskirche in Sendling, before the Munich Chamber Orchestra began the first day's work on the sessions, Silvestrov sat at the piano and began, quietly, to play. A solo piano recording wasn't planned, but the microphones were set up for the orchestra, which included piano... Producer Manfred Eicher let the machines run anyway, and snared the first of these pieces, finding in these lontano audio snapshots a special poignancy, and encouraging Silvestrov to continue playing after the orchestra session. There is a quality to the bagatelles almost like eavesdropping on private thoughts: the pieces sound as if created in the moment. But Silvestrov scholar Tatjana Frumkis specifies otherwise: "The bagatelles form a sort of improvised cycle… Yet what we hear is not improvisation in the strict sense: everything has been fully crafted in the composer's mind down to the nethermost detail… The living flow of the music is sped up or restrained by a prevailing sense of rubato. The dynamics are governed by the softest pianissimos that seem to expand infinitely in the interior of the church. The listener is granted an opportunity to experience one of the composer's unique autographs, a sound-ideal with his characteristic weightless attack ('as if on springtime ice')." The highly unusual recording reveals a great deal about Silvestrov as musical thinker - the bagatelles are like an x-ray of his melodic imagination - and help us understand both the sources from which his larger pieces flow and the kinds of demands he makes of his interpreters. This is not the first time that Silvestrov has recorded his own music, for his debut ECM disc Leggiero, pesante already included, as a postscript, his solo performance of 'Hymne 2001'. It is, though, the most extensive documentation to date.
Moscow-born pianist Alexi Lubimov has been a champion of new music for more than 40 years and has a long and special relationship with the compositions of Silvestrov. As he has written, "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'. 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. He has 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 are the tiny details that demand such meticulous work from the interpreter."
Lubimov has previously recorded Silvestrov's music on the ECM discs Metamusik/Postludium", with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and Dennis Russell Davis, on the solo recital disc Der Bote and on the album Misterioso (with violinist Alexander Trostiansky and clarinettist Kirill Rybakov) exploring connections between Silvestrov, Arvo Part and Galina Ustvolskaya. Part is the dedicatee of "Zwei Dialoge mit Nachwort", one of five world premiere recordings on the present disc. With sensitive direction from Christoph Poppen, Lubimov and the Munich Chamber Orchestra explore an imaginary 'conversation' between Franz Schubert and Richard Wagner, with a larger cast of spirits lingering in the vicinity... Alexei Lubimov also returns to Der Bote - a messenger between this world and the beyond in Silvestrov's cosmology - heard now in the version for piano and strings and played with extraordinary luminosity, the strings sounding like "an expansion of the sonorities of the piano's voice…"
"Stille Musik" for orchestra is dedicated to Manfred Eicher whose first exposure to Silvestrov was a recording of the Stille Lieder (Silent Songs) that he heard in the early 1980s. "Elegie" and "Abschiedsserenade" are both in memory of composer Ivan Karabitz, a close friend. The "Elegie" is based upon a fragment of Karabitz's unfinished final composition.
Bagatellen und Serenaden is the ECM sixth album devoted to the music of Valentin Silvestrov. It follows Leggiero, pesante, Requiem for Larissa, Metamusik/Postludium, Silent Songs and Symphony No.6. Additionally, Alexei Lubimov has championed Silvestrov's music on his own albums Der Bote and Misterioso.
Reaffirming the label's commitment to Silvestrov and Lubimov, Bagatellen und Serenaden is also another chapter in ECM's continuing association with the Munich Chamber Orchestra and conductor Poppen. This collaboration has previously led to New Series recordings with music of Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Sofia Gubaidulina, J.S. Bach/Anton Webern, Barry Guy and Giacinto Scelsi. A wide range, indeed, and further recordings with the orchestra are in preparation.
After the tonal luminosity of the 'Bagatelles', the piercing dissonances at the opening of the 'Elegy' exert a particularly poignant impact, as does 'The Messenger' where the interaction between the resonances of piano and strings is extremely haunting.
-Erik Levi, BBC Music Magazine
ECM marks Valentin Silvestrov's 70th birthday with a disc that assembles smaller pieces and collections written over the past decade. A disc, moreover, of two distinct halves - the first of which features the composer in his Bagatelles: 13 miniatures that do not so much succeed as 'bleed' into each other in a half-hour sequence whose spectral allusions to Romantic pianism and consistently attenuated dynamics (the damper pedal sustained throughout) go some way to defining the essence of Silvestrov's music. Even then, the dissonance on which the final piece evanesces hints at those darker ambiguities which are present in even his seemingly most unequivocal statements.
The second half focuses on music for strings, sensitively rendered by the Munich Chamber Orchestra and Christoph Poppen. If the trio of ethereal dances comprising Stille Musik and distanced elegance of the two-part Abschiedsserenade are all of a piece with what came before, Elegie evinces a more anguished expression. Pianist Alexei Lubimov makes a fastidious contribution to Der Bote - a Mozartian rondo of deceptive tranquillity - and the oblique recollections of Wagner and Schubert that inform the serene Zwei Dialoge mit Nachtwort. Recording and annotations reflect ECM's customary high standards, and the release can be recommended as an ideal resume of one aspect - though not necessarily the lighter one - of Silvestrov's creativity." -Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
In his notes to the 2004 ECM release of Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov's REQUIEM FOR LASRISSA (dedicated to his wife, Larissa Bondarenko, who died in 1996), music critic Paul Griffiths makes a statement that cuts to the heart of Silvestrov's art : 'Time in Valentin Silvestrov's music is a black lake. The water barely moves, the past refuses to slide away, and the slow, irregular stirrings of an oar remain in place.' This sense of 'stopped time' pervades many of the composer's works - it seems to me a bit of an aural equivalent of what the great Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky did in his cinematic masterpieces. Tarkovsky called it 'sculpting in time'. In Silvestrov's music, time seems to stand still to the point of disorientation - some of his larger, longer works seem to give the impression of constantly 'ending', only to continue. He calls his music 'post-symphonic', and the titles of several of his works reflect this: 'Postludium' and 'Postlude' appear here and there. The listener is left with a sense of d?j? vu - has this music been experienced before, perhaps in another lifetime? In one of his pieces from the mid-70s, 'Kitsch music for piano', there's a movement entitled 'A metaphor for Schubert and Chopin', leaving the listener with the impression that this music must have been written by a composer centuries ago - exactly the effect for which Silvestrov was reaching. I think perhaps it's not so much that Silvestrov is trying to 'stop time' - it's more like he's setting the listener afloat in that 'lake', where the present and the past touch and interact. Memory becomes as tangible as present existence - tenses merge and blur. Herbert Glossner, in the booklet accompanying the ECM release of Silvestrov's SYMPHONY NO. 6, appropriately quotes Marcel Proust (from REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST) : 'And all at once the memory returned.' Memory, in the music of Valentin Silvestrov, is as much a physical dimension as space.
After the obvious starting point in the composer's mind, Silvestrov's compositions begin on the piano. Over the years, I have found that the brief tastes of the composer himself at the keyboard that have been offered on three releases - 'Four songs after Osip Mandelstam', for baritone and piano, recorded in 1986 and released WITH SILENT SONGS by both Megadisc and ECM; 'Unsnaya musika 1 & 2', included with the song cycle STUFEN, recorded in 1999 and released by Magadisc; and 'Hymne 2001', which appears on LEGGIERO, PESANTE, recorded in 2001 and released by ECM - to be some of the most moving music I've ever heard. Thus it was with great anticipation that I awaited the release of BAGATELLEN UND SERENADEN, ECM's newest offering of his works - over half of the album features the composer at the piano, alone, performing some of his most intimate, moving works...many of which he says have never been written down on paper. According to the notes, the composer often works on compositions in this manner, holding snippets of melody in his mind for long periods of time before putting it in writing - thus the pieces are allowed to find their own voice naturally, over time. The sense of physically plucking memories out of time is therefore strengthened by the very process through which the pieces come into being. His music has been described as 'a dialogue with silence' - each note, each phrase is given a life of its own and allowed to move and breathe naturally, without artifice. More than any composer I've ever heard, living or not, Silvestrov combines elements of the avant-garde (the school in which he matured) and the neo-romantic - he does it seamlessly and without pretension, holding the melody above all else, even in the most dense and dissonant passages of his larger works. The music has a living flow unlike that of any other composer.
I'm by no means a classical music scholar - and what I'm expressing here is intended to be more on an emotional response level than anything so exacting or analytical. Hearing these piano pieces directly from the hands of the composer is a very moving experience for me - it's extremely personal and conversational, as if he's speaking through the keyboard and my soul is responding.
The other half of this CD is comprised of works for chamber orchestra, two of which - 'Der Bote' (1996) and 'Zwei Dialog emit Nachwort' (2001-02) feature the wonderful playing of Alexei Lubimov, long a fine, sensitive interpreter of Silvestrov's keyboard compositions. The orchestra is the M?nchener Kammerorchester, under the able direction of Christoph Poppen. These are pieces of aching beauty - but one shouldn't take that to indicate that they are 'fluff' by any means. Silvestrov's works are always of strong substance and intellectual depth - every note does its part to complete the effect of the whole, and nothing is left to chance or done without consideration.
As one might expect, the production on this release is superb - ECM has long been known for the highest level of audio quality. In the case of the solo piano pieces presented here, they've outdone themselves. Rather than 'placing' the listener in close proximity to the performer (some engineers seem to think the listener should practically be inside the piano). Sound engineer Stephan Schellmann and producer Manfred Eicher have achieved a sonic miracle - when I listen to this recording, it's as if I'm sitting about halfway back in the recording space. The element of memory and the feeling of experiencing this music over a 'quiet distance', seemingly intangible and untouchable qualities, are brilliantly conveyed by the recording.
This disc presents some of the most important and moving work by a composer whom Arvo P?rt has called 'one of the greatest composers of our time' - no small bit of praise. I can heartily recommend any the ECM releases that showcase his work - and especially Bagatellen und Serenade. As an introduction to an important composer, it's a great place to start exploring.
- Larry L. Looney, Amazon.com (Top 500 reviewer)
All Music Guide