Valentin Silvestrov: leggiero, pesante (ECM New Series 1776)

Valentin Silvestrov
leggiero, pesante

Valentin Silvestrov piano
Anja Lechner cello
Silke Avenhaus piano
Simon Fordham violin
Maacha Deubner soprano
Rosamunde Quartett
Recorded January 2001, Festeburgkirche, Frankfurt am Main
Engineer: Markus Heiland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

With leggiero, pesante ECM devoted its first entire disc to the work of Valentin Silvestrov, inaugurating an ongoing series through which the label has been documenting a quiet musical path that had, until then, led the composer to great acclaim hardly anywhere beyond his native Ukraine. As one who often works in larger forces, Silvestrov was, I think, wisely introduced to listeners through this program of chamber pieces. To be sure, his statements are no less expansive here, but one sees more clearly in the capillary motifs that so fascinate him, and us, with their inner life.

If the opening Sonata for cello and piano (1983) is a mirror, than in it we catch only fleeting glimpses of faces that, through the magic of performance, are slowed like a film reel until their pathos becomes clear. Intense dynamic contrasts ensure that silences are as full as the notes that cradle them. Pianist Silke Avenhaus and cellist Anja Lechner offer a painstaking reading of this rather difficult piece, which challenges with its need for emotional over technical virtuosity.

If the String Quartet No. 1 (1974) is a breath, then each instrument is a sheltering lung. The first violin stretches its capacity, exhaling a jagged agenda against the linear regularity of the trio from which it is birthed. As these become increasingly convinced of its mission, they join the violin in song, only to fall back into the folds of their complacency, leaving the violin to weep for its lost cause. The Rosamunde Quartett’s performance is transparent and honest and ensures that every stage of this mournful journey is illuminated by salvation.

If the Three Postludes (1981/82) are hands, then each grabs the wrist of the other in an unbreakable triangle. Postludium No. 1 is a swan song for Shostakovich and uses the composer’s DSCH cryptogram to satoric effect. Soprano Maacha Deubner reprises the profundity she brought to Kancheli’s Exil, loosing her angelic rain through a gossamer fabric woven of violin and piano. Violinist Simon Fordham makes of Postludium No. 2 an enigmatic complement, while Avenhaus and Silke return for the delicate charm of Postludium No. 3, honing a brightening edge in an otherwise murky recital.

The composer himself takes up the piano for his closing Hymn 2001, dropping highs like spores into the instrument’s freshly tilled lows, where they are silently absorbed to begin the cycle anew.

As the album’s title makes abundantly clear, Silvestrov’s music feels light, but in being so is immeasurably heavy. Just when it seems on the verge of fading like a mist in morning light, it curls back from the binds that loop it firmly around our attentions. It is not that these binds are particularly restrictive, only that the music is so much at peace in their gentle capture that its shoes remain unworn.

2 thoughts on “Valentin Silvestrov: leggiero, pesante (ECM New Series 1776)

  1. You have the wrong composer’s name at the very top of this posting; it’s Silvestrov, not Kancheli! (I can see why you had the latter composer’s name in your head, though!)

    I love this blog! How many ECM records are there? Do you own them all? What is your top 10?

    1. Wow, thanks for the catch! And thanks for reading 🙂 ECM has released around 1500 albums by this point, if you include the sub-labels. I own them all in mostly digital form, as carrying around all those CDs and LPs has just gotten too cumbersome over the years. Top 10 is really difficult for jazz, but on the classical side I will direct you to my write-up on the New Series, which has a Top 10 list at the end.

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