This album of chamber music is the first in a series of ECM New Series releases by Valentin Silvestrov, intended to spotlight the work of this important Ukrainian composer in the months and years to come. In addition to the present disc, ECM has already recorded Silvestrov's "Metamusik" and "Postludium" (with Alexander Lubimov, Dennis Russell Davies and the RSO Wien), and "Requiem" (with the Ukrainian National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Sirenko, and the choir Dumka under the direction of Evgeny Savchuk). Further Silvestrov releases in preparation include the remarkable cycle "Silent Songs" (1974/77) for voice and piano.
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.
As musicologist Frans C. Lemaire has noted: "Silvestrov [in 1969] ponders over the meaning of his music, the relation between the past and all things which escape the mechanism of time. He dwells on the relation between historical culture on the one hand and the magical, primitive and perpetual dimension of inspiration ... 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."
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".
The pieces on the present recording (made with the participation of the composer) were written between 1974 and 2001. The album concludes with the première recording of "Hymn 2001", played by Silvestrov himself on piano.
It opens, however, with his intriguing "Sonata for Cello and Piano" of 1983, performed here by Anja Lechner and Silke Avenhaus. In her liner notes, musicologist Tatjana Frumkis writes, "What is entirely unique is the form of the sonata, which stands aloof from the typical structure of the sonata form. This one-movement work follows a different logic; it is informed by a different, hidden meaning. An impetuous, creative gesture opens up a sonic space: a gentle melody on the cello, solicitously underlaid by the 'palms of the piano's hands' (Silvestrov), a muffled murmuring of both instruments ... Everything is pervaded by the effort of commencing, by expectations that it will take the golden section of the work to fulfil. Melody as 'consolation, dedication, catharsis.' Silvestrov's work abounds with such events: they grow from inside, from quiet listening." Such 'events' are not easily snared by even skilled interpreters, and the performers on this recording were glad of Silvestrov's input, both at the session itself and in rehearsals.
Anja Lechner: "It was very important for us to work with Silvestrov. On the printed page his music can seem overloaded with instructions to the player - each bar is freighted with dynamics, ritardandi, accelerandi, and tempo markings. After having internalized all these playing instructions, at the end what is important is that the music should breathe, move and travel like a composed improvisation. I'm a musician who thought she knew what a pianissimo is, because I had always loved to play really softly, when it is needed. But when I met Silvestrov I realised that I still was at the beginning of knowing what it means to play a real pianissimo. He harassed us about still playing too loudly in every phrase. But when he sat down at the piano and played something for us, he introduced us to the most intimate, sensitive, tender, breakable yet still speaking pianissimo. After that, we all understood."
Silke Avenhaus: "Silvestrov is obsessed with the details of the music. Although they don't sound remotely like each other, there are parallels to working with Kurtág, who will also take you deeper and deeper into the sound, into the dynamics." Avenhaus emphasises that for the musician "an intellectual approach to Silvestrov's compositions is absolutely insufficient." The player must feel his or her way into the music to gain a sense of its many subtleties and its emotional depth.
The "String Quartet No. 1" from 1974 is a transitional piece in the composer's oeuvre, embracing romantic, atonal, dodecaphonic, and aleatoric gestures in the course of its subtle flow. Silvestrov likened the opening theme to "a poem about the fate of music in the last two hundred years" The piece has become a staple of the Rosamunde Quartett's concert programme in recent seasons; they negotiate its shadowy and echoic regions with finesse. During the recording, they were aided by the composer, who guided them through its meticulously graded dynamics.
The "Three Postludes" are from 1981/82, and may be performed independently or as a cycle. Postlude I here features the bell-like singing of Maacha Deubner, best known perhaps for her radiant performance of Giya Kancheli's "Exil" (ECM New Series 1535). This first Postlude "decodes" the famous musical monogram of Dmitri Shostakovich (a crucial influence for Silvestrov, as for so many ex Soviet composers), offered as a requiem for a great master.
"Postlude II", for solo violin, is played by the Rosamunde Quartett's Simon Fordham. Tatjana Frumkis: "It is a contemplative song with moments of silence, the characteristic parallelisms and 'Gothic' cadences recalling a canzona da sonar. The melody is enlaced with mysterious, exotic sounds, then suddenly breaks off."
The third Postlude, played by Anja Lechner and Silke Avenhaus, seems to take up the melody from the "Sonata for Cello and Piano" heard earlier, although the influence runs the other way. Historically, the postlude was a "prelude" to the sonata, and was written a year earlier.
Valentin Silvestrov himself adds the "final caesura", with his tender performance of his "Hymn 2001".
Anja Lechner: "Silvestrov has said 'I must write what pleases me and not what others like, not - to quote an apt saying - what the age dictates to me. Otherwise I'm at the mercy of an economic cycle that cripples the imagination. ... I must seek beauty.' And that's something that's very hard to say in our time, and easily misunderstood. In central European new music such words are habitually rejected: beauty, feeling, soul ..."
Anja Lechner studied with Jan Polasek, János Starker and Heinrich Schiff. Apart from the traditional repertoire, her solo programmes place a strong accent on contemporary music. Her repertoire includes compositions by Valentin Silvestrov, Giya Kancheli, Alfred Schnittke and Günter Bialas. She has collaborated with the Argentine bandoneon player Dino Saluzzi and the Ukrainian pianist Misha Alperin. Lechner has appeared at numerous festivals, including the Munich Biennale, the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, and the European Weeks Passau. Between 1993 and 1998 she held a guest professorship in Chamber Music at the Hochschule für Musik in Graz. Like Andreas Reiner and Helmut Nicolai, she is a founding member of the Rosamunde Quartett.
Simon Fordham was born in Melbourne in 1965. He began taking violin lessons with Brian Blake at the age of six and continued his studies with Brian Finlayson at the Victorian College of the Arts. Fordham then went to Germany, where he attended the Robert Schumann College of Music in Düsseldorf, completing his solo training with Rosa Fain and attending chamber music courses with the Amadeus Quartet. His career as an orchestra musician began with the German Chamber Academy of Neuss and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra; upon completing his studies, he became a member of the West German Radio Symphony Orchestra. In 1991 he joined the Munich Philharmonic to be able to work under Sergiu Celibidache. The following year he became a member of the Rosamunde Quartett, Munich.
The Rosamunde Quartett was formed in Munich by Anja Lechner, Andreas Reiner and Helmut Nicolai in 1991. The first violinist, Andreas Reiner, was born in Vienna and studied with Werner Ehrenhofer and Itzhak Perlman. Helmut Nicolai began his career with the Berlin Philharmonic before moving to the Munich Philharmonic as principal violist. The Rosamunde Quartett gave their much acclaimed debut at the Berlin Festival Weeks in 1992. Their formative artistic influences included Sergiu Celibidache and Heinrich Schiff. Alongside the standard repertoire, the Rosamunde Quartett programme works by composers including Carl Goldmark, Emil Frantiek Burian, Hanns Jelinek, and Luigi Nono. The Rosamunde Quartett joined the roster of ECM New Series in 1996; their first three CDs for ECM - the first with quartets by Webern, Shostakovich and Burian, followed by a collaborative project with the Argentine composer and bandoneon player Dino Saluzzi (Kultrum), and, most recently, Haydn's Seven Last Words, which appeared in May 2001 - have gained widespread recognition in the international press and have also been awarded a number of prizes.
Silke Avenhaus studied with Bianca Bodalia and Klaus Schilde in Munich and György Sebök at Indiana University in Bloomington. Sándor Végh and András Schiff also numbered among her teachers. Avenhaus has played with a host of distinguished musicians, including Thomas Zehetmair, Isabelle Faust, Anja Lechner, Christoph Poppen and, as a member of the Munch Trio, with Xenia Jankovic and Arvid Engegard. Several composers, such as Jörg Widmann, Magnar Aam and Akikazu Nakamura, have written works for her. She has given concerts in Europe, North America and Southeast Asia, and during the 2000/2001 season, performed in the European musical capitals of Vienna, London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Athens and Cologne, and at New York's Carnegie Hall, all under the auspices of the Rising Star Series. Avenhaus is a frequent partner of the Rosamunde Quartett.
Maacha Deubner studied singing in Essen and Hamburg, where her last teacher was Judith Beckmann. The soprano also attended master classes with Ralph Gothoni, Dalton Baldwin and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Since then she has sung in Europe and North America and performed at numerous festivals, such as the Music Biennale in Berlin, the Haendel Festival in Göttingen, the Lockenhaus Chamber Music Festival and the Lucerne Festival. Deubner has worked with conductors including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Michael Gielen and Valery Gergiev. Her repertoire includes operatic roles by Bach, Haendel, Haydn and Mozart; but she is also at home on the concert stage, in works by Brahms, Mahler and Schoenberg, and devotes considerable time to chamber music. She sang in Luigi Nono's Prometeo, with the Ensemble Modern, at the Wien Modern 2000 festival. Maacher Deubner has participated in a number of recordings of works by Giya Kancheli for ECM New Series, among them Exil, Caris Mere and Lament - Music of Mourning in Memory of Luigi Nono (with Gidon Kremer).
CD package includes 32 page German-English booklet with notes on the music of Valentin Silvestrov by Tatjana Frumkis, and photography by Roberto Masotti.