“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 Pärt 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 Pärt’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.”
Valentin Silvestrov was born in 1937. He studied piano at the Kiev Evening Music School (1955–58), and composition, harmony and counterpoint at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Kiev from 1958 to 1964. Silvestrov was alert from the outset to new compositional approaches, and an individual lyricism and melodic feeling have been hallmarks of his work through all periods of his artistic development, irrespective of musical styles or systems employed. Together with Leonid Grabovsky, he counts as the leading figure of the “Kiev Avant-garde”, which by 1960 was experimenting with 12-tone and aleatoric music and music theatre, in contradistinction to the generally conservative mood of Ukrainian composition.
His early work was briefly heard outside the Soviet Union in the late 1960s: Bruno Maderna conducted Silvestrov’s Third Symphony in Darmstadt in 1968, and Boulez presented his work in one of the Domaine Musical concerts. By this point, however, Silvestrov was already distancing himself from dominant trends in modern music.
In 1969 Silvestrov re-evaluated the meaning of his music, as he examined the relationship between historical culture on the one hand and the magical, primitive and perpetual dimension of inspiration on the other. “This is where Silvestrov’s music takes a highly interesting and distinctive turn. It becomes impregnated with a slow expressive confidence and exhibits greatly prolonged melodic lines in a post romantic climate that is often reminiscent of Gustav Mahler” (Frans C. Lemaire).
Silvestrov was one of the first composers from the former Soviet Union to cast aside what might be called the “conventional” gestures of the avant-garde, as well as any sense of formulaic “experimentalism”. As he has perceptively noted, “the most important lesson of the avant-garde was to be free of all preconceived ideas – particularly those of the avant-garde.” This perspective led to the development of an idiom which Silvestrov would eventually come to call “metaphorical style” or “meta-music”.
Alexei Lubimov was born in Moscow in 1944, and began his musical training at the Central Music School. He attended the Moscow Conservatory where he was one of the last students of the great pianist, teacher and writer Heinrich Neuhaus. He won First Prize at the All-Russian Piano Competition when he was 16, and was also a prize-winner at international competitions in Rio de Janeiro and Montreal.
He made his mark as a champion of contemporary composers in 1968, when he gave the Moscow debuts of works by John Cage and Terry Riley and it was through his endeavours – also as the founder of the important Moscow festival "Alternativa" – that many listeners in Russia became acquainted with the music of numerous western composers. He also premiered pieces by Silvestrov, Schnittke, Gubaidulina and other major figures in composition inside what was then the Soviet Bloc.
In the 1980s, Lubimov devoted a great deal of his time to authentic instruments and music played on historical principles. He formed the Moscow Baroque Quartet and pioneered harpsichord and fortepiano performances in the USSR, and founded a baroque ensemble, the Moscow Chamber Academy, with Tatiana Grindenko.
Lubimov's international breakthrough came in 1987. Since then, he has given numerous recitals in the United States, Europe and Japan, and performed with major symphony orchestras under conductors including Vladimir Ashkenazy, David Oistrakh, Charles Mackerras, Neeme Järvi, Esa Pekka Salonen, Frans Brüggen etc. His chamber music partners include Heinrich Schiff, Natalia Gutman and Eduard Brunner. His recordings include more than 30 albums for Russian label Melodiya; the complete Mozart Sonatas on fortepiano, and works by Schubert, Chopin, Beethoven and Brahms for Erato; and 20th century music for BIS and Sony.
His ECM debut “Der Bote”, a recital disc which imaginatively brought together compositions by CPE Bach, John Cage, Tigran Mansurian, Franz Liszt, Michael Glinka, Frédéric Chopin, Claude Debussy, Béla Bartók and Valentin Silvestrov, received unanimous critical acclaim worldwide. It was followed by a moving account of the Schnittke Piano Quintet (with The Keller Quartet). Other Lubimov New Series discs in preparation include an album of Russian 20th century piano music, with compositions of Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Scriabin.
Dennis Russell Davies was born in Toledo, Ohio. He has lived in Germany since 1980 yet remained an active presence on the North American music scene as guest conductor with the major orchestras and operas of New York and Chicago. Currently Davies is Chief Conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Chief Conductor of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra and Professor of Orchestral Conducting at the Salzburg Mozarteum. He recently concluded his tenure as Music Director of the American Composers' Orchestra.
Davies is recognised as one of the most innovative and adventurous conductors in the classical musical world. He has worked closely with many contemporary composers including Luciano Berio, William Bolcom, Giya Kancheli, John Cage, Lou Harrison, Hans Werner Henze, Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass and others. He has also appeared on 16 ECM albums to date. His recording, with the American Composers Orchestra, of John Cage's "The Seasons" won the "Best Contemporary Music Prize" at the Japanese Record Academy Awards 2000.