Valentin Silvestrov: Metamusik / Postludium (ECM New Series 1790)

Valentin Silvestrov
Metamusik / Postludium

Alexei Lubimov piano
Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
Dennis Russell Davies conductor
Recorded April 2001 at ORF Studio, Vienna
Engineer: Anton Reininger
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“Meta” is a prefix often thrown around without much thought as to its origins. The academic world of which I am a part is especially fond of it. Yet the nuance of “meta” as “transcending” (as in “metaphysical”) is a mistake born of frequent misuse and reinforcement. Its origins lie in the Greek preposition, which means “in the midst of, in pursuit or quest of.” These get us closer to the heart of Metamusik, the title of a one-movement symphony for piano and orchestra from Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov that forms the bulk of the third album dedicated to his music on the ECM New Series. And indeed, the opening proclamation of the selfsame composition already sounds as if it were in the midst of, if not in pursuit of, something. And while I normally find that Silvestrov’s motivic denouements emote more effectively in concentrated settings, in this case I find that the 48-minute running time allows both listeners and performers all the breathing room they need to delineate its finer anatomies. The soloist here is Alexei Lubimov, who first introduced us to Silvestrov in the ghostly recital, Der Bote. His role, however, is neither to lead nor respond, but to inhabit as many particles as he can of the piece’s opening Big Bang. These, he connects through a wavering orchestral environment with planetary care. He opens every note like an ocean in and of itself, ebbing and flowing simultaneously, redrawing the same lines along the shores of unpopulated worlds. It is that rare sound which mesmerizes by way of dark matter and black holes, falling without end into a void of shifting pathos. Whether our eyes are closed or open, we see nothing but the nebulae of our own consciousness, naked and diffuse.

If by now any of us expect to achieve familiarity in the accompanying Postludium, then we need only still ourselves before we are ready to see. The title here is another didactic one. It is Silvestrov’s default modality, the aural afterword to a non-existent referent. In short: an epilogue to silence. And though these same musicians may exert themselves and the composer may labor over the staves that engender the music’s emergence, our experience of it lacks the immediate visceral connection of having performed it. (It is just such a chain of meteoric intentions that binds us to the postlude as “genre.”) In acknowledging an emptiness from which forms all matter, we also know there is emptiness to be squeezed from the tangible, somehow beautiful in the embrace of our acoustic validations. We may float without direction, but Silvestrov seems to say that our voices, the very notecraft of our being, are the only compasses we need.

The power of this music speaks differently to all of us. It is a living force that mimics whatever vessel contains it. It is also a blank page: present yet weightless with meaning. Silvestrov’s is a sound-world of punctuation marks. It is up to us to fill in the words.

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