‘It’s as if one were looking at a familiar piece of sculpture from an unusual angle; details that were previously half-hidden suddenly emerge at close range. A fascinating and often illuminating interpretation, and marvellously played to boot.’ Thus Geoff Brown in his London Times review of Schubert’s G-major Quartet, arranged for string orchestra by Victor Kissine. The same might be said of this recording by the Kremerata Baltica: music we think we know well reveals completely new facets. But now the perspective seems reversed: it is not the orchestral potential of great chamber music that Kremer is exploring with his young string orchestra, but a work for large forces – the Adagio from Mahler’s Tenth Symphony, heard with an intensity and concentration that only a string quartet or equally diaphanous chamber ensemble is normally capable of achieving.
Ten years have passed since Gidon Kremer founded a chamber orchestra consisting of the best young musicians from the Baltic countries – as a sort of present to himself on his 50th birthday, as he jokingly puts it. Today the orchestra is less interested in the standard repertoire than in meticulously examining extraordinary masterpieces of music history, no matter what their original scoring – from the string quartet to the symphony. Kremer deliberately seeks out these challenges and the perils they entail: ‘We want to push the works to maximum individual expression’, the 60-year-old violinist explains, ‘and we know that this can never result in a finished product. Any change of instrumentation, no matter how slight, alters the timbral coherence.’ Kremer is quick to point out that ambitious transcriptions only represent one part of the Kremerata’s work, which includes a steadily growing number of new commissions, especially from Baltic composers.
The Russian musicologist Inna Barsova, in her accompanying essay, refers to the intrinsic similarity of the two works on our CD: ‘The Tenth Symphony of 1910 is Gustav Mahler’s unfinished final composition. Dmitri Shostakovich, it is true, wrote another symphony two years after the Fourteenth, but in 1969, the year of his serious illness, he was firmly convinced that the Fourteenth would mark the end of his musical oeuvre.’ It is no coincidence that both symphonies are late works, musical confessions which, like Schubert’s G-major Quartet, probe the limits of musical expression and the human condition. To quote Kremer: ‘I find myself increasingly drawn to the maturity and finality of late works and late thoughts – this mastery conjoined with maximum economy of means.’
Mahler, as interpreted by Walter, Kondrashin or Bernstein, has always held out a special fascination for Kremer although, being a soloist, he was unable to play any of his works himself (apart from an early movement for piano quartet). He therefore turned all the more readily to Hans Stadlmair’s arrangement of the 1970s for fifteen strings, an arrangement that the Kremerata has touched up in details and enlarged to 21 instruments. The first performance of this new version was given in Lockenhaus several years ago, conducted by Kent Nagano.
Just how sceptically Kremer viewed Shostakovich’s music as a young man is described in his autobiography, Zwischen Welten: ‘At that time I found much of it conservative and unappealing, but today the late works in particular are, I feel, among the most intensive and moving things written in the 20th century.’ The Kremerata first rehearsed the Fourteenth with Kremer’s lifelong friend Woldemar Nelsson, with whom he had made his début recording of the Beethoven concerto in 1974 (Nelsson died in November 2006 at the age of 68). Owing to its huge rhythmic difficulties, Kremer considered the work virtually unperformable without a conductor. This exciting live recording, with Kremer conducting from the concertmaster’s desk, was made in the auditorium of the Vienna Musikverein during a long tour.
Gidon Kremer was born in Riga in 1947 and studied with Pyotr Bondarenko and David Oistrakh. After winning several major violin competitions he moved to the West in 1980 and founded the Lockenhaus Chamber Music Festival in 1981. His connection with ECM began with the legendary album Tabula Rasa, which launched the ECM New Series in 1984 and made the name of Arvo Pärt known in the West. It was followed by several live recordings of chamber music from Lockenhaus. In autumn 2005 Kremer issued his second recording of the Bach solo sonatas and partitas, eliciting widespread acclaim from the media.
The Kremerata Baltica, first heard on the recording of Kancheli’s In l’istesso tempo (2005), gave its actual ECM début in autumn of the same year with the above-mentioned Schubert quartet. Founded by Gidon Kremer in 1997, it now figures among the outstanding ensembles of its kind. Its 27 musicians from all three Baltic countries present some 60 concerts annually on their tours of Europe, Asia and America. In addition to the chamber orchestra, a formation of solo instrumentalists has also emerged: the Kremerata Musica. The Kremerata Baltica has played under such renowned guest conductors as Christoph Eschenbach, Kent Nagano, Sir Simon Rattle, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Heinrich Schiff and Heinz Holliger. A major focus of its unusually broad repertoire falls on contemporary music from eastern Europe. Composers such as Pärt, Kancheli, Vasks, Desyatnikov and Raskatov have all written works for the ensemble.
The soprano Julia Korpacheva initially studied violin in Moscow and was an active orchestral musician before completing her voice studies at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. In 2001 she was a soloist in the world première in St. Petersburg of Leonid Desyatnikov’s The Russian Seasons with the Kremerata. She has worked with many renowned conductors and sings at leading festivals.
Fedor Kuznetsov won first prize at the Russian All-Union Voice Competition in 1987 and sang in Russia’s leading opera companies. He has been a regular soloist at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre since 1996, where he sings the great bass roles of the opera repertoire. He is also an active concert and oratorio singer.