Valentin Silvestrov: Sacred Songs (ECM New Series 2279)

2279 X

Valentin Silvestrov
Sacred Songs

Kiev Chamber Choir
Mykola Hobdych conductor
Recorded 2008 at St. Michael’s Cathedral, Kiev
Engineer: Andrij Mokrytskij
Project coordinator: Tayisa Yurieva
Recording by Kyiv Choir Productions
Co-production of Kyiv Choir Productions/ECM Records

Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice:
have mercy also upon me, and answer me.

The Book of Genesis tells us that in the beginning was the Word and that the Word was sound. But what if it was music? What if God, in contemplating the creation of Creation, sang being into being? If so, it might have sounded something like the Sacred Songs of Valentin Silvestrov. In this seventh ECM album devoted to the Ukrainian composer’s music, we thusly encounter a sense of space unique to the Russian liturgy: the more the voices unify in movement, the more they lift from one another like temporary tattoos, leaving behind mirror images that wash away with baptism into infinite oneness with the Holy Spirit. Sin as sun. Firmament as fundament.

Under the direction of Mykola Hodbych, the Kiev Chamber Choir likewise turns breath into physical substance, each particle activated by thrum of flesh and shaping of air. Although divided into separate collections, Silvestrov’s compositions are together a whole song—if not a song of wholeness. Their liturgical relationships, in other words, expound on mysteries of faith through an abiding faith in mysteries. The grandest statement in this regard is to be found in the Songs For Vespers (2006), which undoes two millennial knots to reveal the single thread within. “Come, Let Us Worship” invites listener and singer alike to set ancient jewels in a modern crown. Its shifting harmonies are sunrays incarnate, each taking ablution by shadow. Soloists blot the remaining songs with their supernova curls, each a messenger of immaculate peace. Among them, alto Tetiana Havrylenko glows without the need for a telescope, revealing the inner venation of sung text, as would a carpenter in wood when staining a table. Tides do not ebb and flow here on a horizontal plane, but revolve in many directions around the surfaces of natural grammars. It is only by brush of torch that their script becomes discernible to the human ear. As the music nurtures its exponents, it riddles temptation with intensities of understanding only found in scripture. Voices change their clothing in a vestry of the heart until their constitution is indistinguishable from the blood that fills its chambers. And in the slumber of a “Silent Night,” footprints leave their impressions in plush snow, extending from a childhood when the world’s shadows were merely the stuff of storybooks and dreams, now creeping into a lagoon of basses.

The Psalms And Prayers of 2007 overtake more distant mountains with their sunrise. On their watery surface floats the contradiction of a mortal life, which reaches upward even as it sinks into pleasure. In thinning the scrim of resistance to love, these melodies demonstrate one’s relationship to God as a process. Each glorifies a name that cannot contain its own holiness. With so much brightness to drink in, it is all one can do to keep from drowning. A trio of diptychs follows with further psalms and refrains. At once brooding and angelic, these cycle through pity and forgiveness and bend under the grind of faith and action. All roads then lead to the Three Spiritual Songs of 2006, by which mirrors and eyes change places, so that it is we who come to reflect ourselves.

Silvestrov’s output, much like his input, has always been concerned with memory. In this instance, it is a memory of birth that haunts the soul in search of knowledge before creation. In response to that original song, which gave us life and bodies with which to know it, only song can suffice. These are the lullabies that sustain us when the world cages us and turns out the lights. These are the hymns that remind us of the weary when we enjoy the comforts of congregation and rest.

(To hear samples of Sacred Songs, click here.)

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One thought on “Valentin Silvestrov: Sacred Songs (ECM New Series 2279)

  1. A spectacular musical experience. I cannot hear this music and do anything else at the same time. It’s just a great pity that the accompanying booklet does not include the texts. Can anyone Please supply these?

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