REVIEWS: divine art dda 25143  Artyomov :Symphony "On the Threshold of a Bright World", etc.


RAFAELMUSICNOTES (joint review with dda 25144):
Divine Art Records is the best go-to on-line store for CDs that focus on new music by European composers.

This month they sent us four CD's: all of them are impressively annotated, impeccably produced, neatly packaged and, most importantly, featuring intriguing music by composers heretofore unbeknownst to us and, I dare say, to the American record collector and concertgoer at large.

The background: The music in both these CD's and the composer deserve wider exposure outside Russia. Praised by compatriot musicians, Mstislav Rostropovich among them, Artyomov was born into a generation that saw the last decade of Stalin, the gradual easing up of restrictions on composers, the arrival of Perestroika and Glasnost and the impact of all of these political changes on the arts.

The music: Artyomov's music is mystical, Russian at the core. He is a master of orchestral writing and of unusual instrumentation. Many of his melodies have their roots in old Slavonic chant. A most unusual talent whose day has yet to come insofar as the American concert-going audience is concerned.
Rafael de Acha

PIZZICATO:
World premiere recordings of two major works by Russian composer Vyacheslav Artyomov, completed by the short transcription of the Maltese Hymn in excellent performances conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy. The expressive music is good for an interesting discovery.

Vyacheslav Artyomov's symphony ‘On the Threshold of a Bright World' is the second part of the ‘Tetralogy' Symphony of the Way, which was commissioned by Mstislav Rostropovich. The composer described this piece, which was written in 1990, as a reflection on life in Russia and the dramatic events which occurred there. It is music which is agitated, with long flowing sections, sometimes dark and threatenining, sometimes bright and flittering. Towards the end the music becomes festive, relaxed and strives towards a ‘shining future'.

‘Ave Atque Vale' for percussion and orchestra is a half-hour concert piece, which keeps the soloist Rotislav Shatayevsky busy.

A three minute arrangement of the Maltese Hymn concludes the CD in a reconciliatory and festive tone.
Norbert Tischer (translation by Wolfgang Ziegler)
Award 4/5

THE CLASSICAL REVIEWER (joint review with dda 25144):
Vyacheslav Artyomov (b.1940)  was born in Moscow and first studied physics at the University of Moscow before transferring to the Tchaikovsky Conservatory where he studied composition with Nikolai Sidelnikov (1930-1992).  He was an editor at the Moscow publishers Musyka for several years and, along with the composers Sofia Gubaidulina (b.1931) and Viktor Suslin (1942-2012), founded the improvisation group Astreya . Since 1979 he has been a freelance composer, with principal works including his acclaimed Requiem , the tetralogy Symphony of the Way and The Morning Star Arises dedicated to the London Symphony Orchestra.

Divine Art Recordings have just released two important discs, available separately, of orchestral works by Vyacheslav Artyomov. The first (dda 25143) includes Symphony - On the Threshold of a Bright World , Ave Atque Vale for solo percussion and orchestra and Hymn – Ave, Crux Alba all with the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia   conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

The second disc (dda 25144) brings us Symphony - Gentle Emanation with the Russian National Orchestra conducted by Teodor Currentzis   and Tristia II – Fantasy for Piano and orchestra with pianist Philip Kopachevsky, reader Mikhail Phillipov and the Russian National Orchestra under Vladimir Ponkin.

Symphony - On the Threshold of a Bright World (1990 rev. 2002) in 18 continuous episodes is the second part of Artyomov's tetralogy Symphony of the Way and in the words of the composer ‘has also become a reflection of life in Russia and the dramatic events that continue to take place there.'

It grows out of the deep basses, gently coloured by percussion and higher strings before brass enter brightening the atmosphere. Yet still the deep basses pervade as the music develops through some impressively constructed passages, full of tremendous strength and heft. There are luminous orchestral colours, glowing textures, rising to peaks with cymbal and timpani crashes. Sudden string surges appear before the music finds a subtly faster flow with a lighter orchestral texture out of which woodwind decorations are heard. Later the pace slackens as the woodwind dance amongst the strings. Artyomov creates some distinctive colours with imaginative use of percussion to add to a bubbling texture, developing through some spectacularly fine passages, teeming with ideas, building again in strength to a terrific climax where there are hints of Scriabin. Midway there is another luminescent passage pointed up by piano with a myriad of instrumental ideas heard emerging from the tapestry of sound created by this composer.

Again the music rises in power before falling through a wonderful passage of great delicacy. The darker, deep orchestral sounds re-appear against an anxious plodding motif, rising inexorably, coloured by percussion through a tremendous sustained peak in the twelfth episode before falling quieter with piano over a hushed string layer. However, the passion and power cannot easily be contained and rises again before brass bring a rather sad theme. All breaks out again in a heavy unison orchestral passage. There is a quieter yet pensive moment full of lovely luminosity in the percussion and strings as well as further eruptions and lovely string passages. The music moves through the most exquisite passage for flute, solo violin and strings before lower strings emerge, rising through the orchestra to a more optimistic, strong conclusion to this impressive journey.

Taken from a solo percussion piece, Ave Atque Vale (1997) for percussion and orchestra in 9 continuous episodes, the composer here is concerned with the gradual coming together of disparate elements. Percussionist , Rostislav Shataevsky opens quietly with high strings in a tentative idea. There is a sudden drum stroke before string passages are punctuated by sudden percussion sounds. Soon the percussion develop more aggressively but ease for a passage of delicate beauty. There are swirling string ideas, this music finding an ebb and flow around the percussion colours and textures. The music rises up through a glowing section before finding a rhythmic beat to stride forward. Shrill eruptions appear before quietening through some magical moments. Toward the end there are twitterings and woodwind arabesques that weave a strange passage before a strange, eerie conclusion.

Ave, Crux Alba (1994 rev. 2012) - Hymn of the Order of St. John arose out of a meeting at the Vatican between Artyomov and Pope John Paul II. The pontiff drew the composer's attention to the Order of St. John Hymn which Artyomov later set to music himself. The Hymn brings a lovely theme for wind to which strings join to expand romantically as the Helikon Theatre Choir enter, rising to a terrific conclusion, very Russian in feel.

This first disc is vividly recorded at the Mosfilm Studios, Moscow, Russia and there are excellent booklet notes from Robert Matthew Walker, author of The Music of Vyacheslav Artyomov.

The second disc opens with Symphony - Gentle Emanation (1991 rev. 2008) in 28 continuous episodes, the third part of Artyomov's tetralogy, Symphony of the Way . The twenty eight continuous episodes are divided into three movements or sections each of which present the facets of one soul in its aspiration to overcome challenges or obstacles. Here the Russian National Orchestra is conducted by Teodor Currentzis.

Section I - episodes (1) – (9) A sudden drum stroke opens this work after which all we hear is a hushed string line. There is a pause before another drum stroke but now the string motif expands and increases in volume. There are further drum strokes as the strings gain in strength and animation, developing the theme. There are more of Artyomov's masterly translucent textures out of which individual instrumental motifs appear, always with a sense of forward motion. Soon the brass add rather Scriabinesque touches as the music moves ahead in surges, finding a greater intensity before reaching some broad, expansive climaxes. Occasionally there are some almost humorous little touches; even an eastern style melody appears. The drum beats re-appear during a hushed section creating a wonderful atmosphere. Artyomov shapes and develops some wonderful ideas in this constantly changing tapestry. When the brass rise again in another climax they bring a terrific effect before falling in an exquisitely gentle, hushed section with solo violin and piccolo and piano lead into Section II.

Section II (10) – (17) brings a fast and furious, shimmering string section, underpinned by the lower orchestra. There are some terrific effects as percussion gently bring an idea over quietly rushing strings. There is a further outburst before a hushed section where strange twitterings are heard, evoking an otherworldly landscape of birds and creatures. The music builds through some terrific passages to a section where strings swirl over a dramatic orchestra before the orchestra falls as strings bring a nervous twittering, shimmering motif full of tension.

Section III (18) – (28) Episode eighteen arrives on a hushed rising motif for celeste to which tubular bells and a vibraphone join, a quite magical moment as we are held in a kind of stasis out of which staccato brass gently appear. The music becomes more angular, more instruments adding little staccato bursts. Later a drooping string motif appears amongst the staccato phrases, a piano adds staccato phrases before the orchestra rises to a cacophonous climax, surely the climax of the whole work. The orchestra dies away to a hush as a solo violin leads forward quickly over a hushed string layer. Muted brass quietly join as the music flows gently and mysteriously forward before chimes re-appear and there is a sudden brass uprising. But it is not sufficient to disrupt the gentle coda as the music fades to nothing.

Tristia II (1998 rev. 2011) – Fantasy for piano and orchestra in 11 continuous episodes was written to mark the 60 th birthday of Vladimir Ashkenazy and includes a spoken poem in prose and a prayer by Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852). The Russian National Orchestra is conducted by Vladimir Ponkin with Philip Kopachevsky (piano) and Mikhail Phillipov (reader).

The music emerges out of the silence on strings, a long held note which slowly expands in this quite lovely opening into which the softly spoken voice of Mikhail Phillipov joins with the poem by Gogol appealing to his angel-guardian. The orchestral strings blend quite wonderfully around the speaker's increasingly passionate delivery. The ebb and flow of the speaker's delivery seems to find its own musical form. Strings take us with a gentle piano motif from Philip Kopachevsky into the second episode where the orchestra develops the theme around the piano. Luminescent textures appear, the music often shimmering and glowing as it rises and falls, finding moments that are so typical of this composer.  Later there is a glorious orchestral surge around which the piano soloist adds his line, moving through passages of exquisite textures. There are lovely swirling passages before a vibrant outburst from the orchestra, highlighted by brass. A quite lovely passage follows, hushed and atmospheric with the piano adding delicacy and texture before the speaker enters gently with a prayer to God for help in creating further works, but ends on a rising brass motif over hushed strings in a quite wonderful moment.

There is a first class recording from the Mosfilm Studios and more excellent booklet notes from Robert Matthew Walker.

Vyacheslav Artyomov is a distinctive and important voice in Russian music. These impressive symphonies are like momentous journeys, full of incident and emotion and the most wonderful ideas. The performances are all that you could wish for making these two discs valuable releases. Bruce Reader

MUSICWEB (1):
The Divine Art label has released two albums of orchestral works which each contain a significant and substantial symphony from Vyacheslav Artyomov one of the lesser known Soviet/Russian composers and a unique voice.

Born in Moscow 1940 Artyomov is one of a generation whose compositional career commenced during the time of the so-called ‘Khrushchev Thaw' when the climate of state oppression and censorship in the Soviet Union became less draconian. Originally intending to become a physicist, Artyomov changed course by attending Moscow Conservatory and studying composition with Nikolai Sidelnikov and piano with Tovi Logovinsky. As one of Russia's leading composers Artyomov has been the recipient of several prestigious commissions.

On the first disc the opening work is ‘ On the Threshold of a Bright World ' subtitled a symphony in 18 continuous movements that Artyomov completed in 1990 and revised in 2002. The collapse of Communism in Russia was undoubtedly an emotional motivation behind the composition of this symphony, a work containing a romantic quality and carrying an inscription from the Book of Enoch. The score was commissioned by Mstislav Rostropovich, who in 1990 premièred the work with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington. I feel this is an engaging work that makes a considerable impact. Predominantly underpinned by low, resonant sound from the basses and organ, one senses the work is depicting the aspects of the universe with the high strings creating an undoubted sense of mystery and eerie percussion effects. Striking is the tension creating by the constantly shifting blocks of sound and employment of wide dynamics that can generate a thunderous climax that quickly fades away.

Originally written for percussion solo in 1997 Artyomov revised and orchestrated the score for percussion and orchestra in 9 continuous movements as ‘ Ave Atque Vale ' ( Hail and Farewell ). It feels as if ‘ Ave Atque Vale ' is scored for orchestra with percussion rather than for percussion supported by orchestra, nevertheless Rostislav Shatayevsky is clearly an expert percussionist. Atmospheric, with wide dynamics, the soundworld is not too dissimilar to that of the symphony ‘ On the Threshold of a Bright World '. This is a gratifying work that can engage the listener with reasonable concentration. The final work on the release is ‘ Ave, Crux Alba ', hymn of the order of St. John, Malta. In 1994 Artyomov heard a performance of the Order of Malta Hymn whilst visiting Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. Artyomov felt he could improve the hymn and wrote his own music and here is his 2012 version of ‘ Ave, Crux Alba ' for chorus and orchestra. Lasting a mere 3 minutes, the score featuring, the Helikon Theatre Choir, is weighty and highly dramatic. There is no spoken text provided in the booklet. Under the baton of Vladimir Ashkenazy the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia has full measure of the work conveying a sense of mystery and an impressive overall grasp.

Both albums were recorded at Mosfilm Sound Studio, Moscow with excellent sound, crystal clear and nicely balanced too. These two albums of works by Vyacheslav Artyomov, one of Russia unsung composers, make a substantial impression with his unique soundworld.
Michael Cookson

MUSICWEB (2) (joint review with DDA 25144):
Moscow-born Vyacheslav Artyomov studied at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory. With Sofia Gubaidulina and Viktor Suslin he experimented with the use of folk instruments. He is a prolific composer. His catalogue includes an orchestral symphony series collectively called The Symphony of the Way . This comprises: 1. The way to Olympus (1978 rev 1984), 2. On the Threshold of a Bright World (1990 rev 2002), 3. Gentle Emanation and 4. Morning Star Arises (1993). His other symphonies include Symphony No. 1 for chamber orchestra, A Symphony of Elegies , which dates from 1977 and was recorded by Melodiya on both LP and CD. The Second, In Memoriam , and Third Symphonies were issued on now-deleted Olympia OCD 516. The Symphony No. 3 is for Organ, Violin and Orchestra and bears the title Way to Olympus (1978-84). The works included on these two separately available CDs are products of the 1990s and 2000s. For a perspective on earlier phases you could try to find a disc — Ave on the now defunct and much lamented Boheme label — of music in his less revolutionary modes. If you are of a mind to pursue this composer's output in depth then there have been, over the years, plenty of discs including the Gramzapis series. Add to this an extensive write-up by and about Artyomov at the FSC site [http://www.fonspic.net/Artyomov].

The Symphony On the Threshold of a Bright World is in 18 continuous episodes, separately tracked. Perhaps taking something from Shchedrin's Symphony No. 2 Twenty-Five Preludes all of these works are in small mosaic units but with paragraphal continuity. The Artyomov proffers a continuous experience rather than a series of stops and starts. Mood transitions are evolutionary rather than abrupt. A surreal and even psychedelic ambience is the order of the day. It is like a Dali dreamscape in constant and meltingly waxy motion. There are some dramatic upsurges [3] amid this subdued and moody processional - the predominance of gloom is comparable with that in Bax's strikingly ruminative Northern Ballad No. 2 and the darker and less flamboyant pages of that composer's First and Second Symphonies [9]. Penderecki-style rolling violins and statuesque writing for the brass provide a backdrop for stabbing pangs of pain from the strings. The music has the character of Scriabin's late orchestral writing rising to torrid abandon and dissonance. There is some glorious writing for celesta, piano and solo violin [8]. The solo violin returns, blessedly pristine and pure at [16]. In the final segment the listener is conscious of pounding pressure but this fades to a filament of light voiced by the solo violin. The notes tell us that at the Washington premiere of an earlier version of this work the music was greeted as "unsettling, profoundly moving and extraordinarily beautiful".

We then come to a piece which smack of The Round House experiments of the 1970s. Ave Atque Vale is in nine continuous short episodes, again separately tracked. Bells and percussion are prominent among groaning writing for brass and strings. Long sizzling string lines compete with jagged interjections by the percussion. There is a sense of protest and of kicking against others' certainties. Track 24 feels like a jungle dance - some rite undocumented by Stravinsky. Things rise towards cataclysm, a steely ringing warning and an ululated repetition that is half shriek-half wail.

The short Ave, Crux Alba - The Order of Malta Hymn - is easier on the ear. It was written for a Papal visit. The music is sensationally grand and strides - never struts. It makes a huge sound accentuated by a lively acoustic. As with the other two recordings the sound is good and carries the whispers and grand climactics with satisfying fidelity.

There are two very substantial works on the second disc. Gentle Emanation is in 28 continuous episodes and three sections: 1-9; 10-17; 18-28. The music flickers and pounds like a huge metal stamping machine. There's more than a touch of Messiaen's wildness about this and those shivering Scriabinisms, already commented on in the symphony On the Threshold of a Bright World , are also present. Add to this little shuddering sallys-forth by the brass and the exultant aural equivalent of solar flares [8]. In section 2 there are more fury-driven outbursts, some long sustained - a gigantic Victorian steam-hammer out of control. This pummelling relents at [13], making way for Messiaen-like bird-song. Light begins to enter the proceedings with the tinkle of bells at [18]. The final tracks seem to signal a gentle slide, a slow sinking into uneasy repose, the opening of doors into the mysteries.

Tristia II is the second of two works for piano and orchestra called Tristia . There is also a Piano Concerto No. 1 from 1961. This is in eleven segments across roughly half an hour. It was written to mark the sixtieth birthday of Vladimir Ashkenazy. The language and effect is shared with those of the two symphonies. It's highly unconventional and the first and last tracks incorporate Nikolai Gogol's supplicatory prayer to some angel-custodian, here voiced at quarters close and warm by Mikhail Philippov.

None of this music makes for an easy listen but there is certainly plenty to intrigue and enthral if you have a moderately tough resolve and an inclination to explore. It should appeal if you have taken to the shamanic incantatory ways of Sergei Zhukhov but it is wilder. You should also take to it if you enjoy Silvestrov although it is tougher with corners roughly hewn. If you already have a taste for the orchestral works of Messiaen and of late Scriabin then again you will find much to appeal to you in these unusual works.

The very knowledgeable notes are in English only and are by composer Robert Matthew-Walker whose book on Artyomov was published in 1997 by DGR Books of St Austell.

These two discs are dedicated to the memory of Artyomov's friend and colleague, the cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich.
Rob Barnett

THE WHOLE NOTE (joint review with DDA 25144):
Vyacheslav Artyomov was preparing for a life in astrophysics, but these two symphonies (parts of a tetralogy) are unlike The Planets , unless you think of them as uber-Holst: they cause a visceral reaction and suggest a metaphysical cri de coeur . My initial reaction to them was that they sounded like the soundtrack of some 1940s film noir or an original-series Star Trek episode – which is apt, since they embody mystery and the unknown. In his essay, Musica Perennis , the composer said “Serious music is created by the spirit for the Spirit,” and these twin-released CDs reflect his view of music as a mediator between God and man, but also as science. While I find the Threshold of a Bright World symphony more arresting than the Gentle Emanation , they are both accessible, and while Artyomov is often compared to Arvo Pärt, I hear a little more of Rautavaara.

The orchestration in Ave Atque Vale and Gentle Emanation is a little jarring due to the highlighting of the percussion parts. But Ave, Crux Alba , a choral (Helikon Theatre Choir) and orchestral setting of the Hymn of the Knights of Malta , returns to the majesty and mystery Artyomov is known for in his musical quest for spirituality. Tristia II, based on the 19th-century poems of Nikolai Gogol and with spoken parts read by Russian actor Mikhail Philippov, carries on the potential-soundtrack feel and allows us non–Russian speakers to hear the cries of the artist to God for inspiration; the suspense in the middle tracks suggests Him mulling the petitions over.

Both CDs are in memoriam of the composer's friend and colleague, Mstislav Rostropovich, and both have expansive liner notes.
Vanessa Wells

GRAMOPHONE (joint review with dda 25144):
Now in his mid-70s, Vyacheslav Artyomov is best known for his six cosmic-mystical-syncretic symphonies, which together make up one of the most distinctive continuations to the post-Soviet Russian branch of the genre. Two of those symphonies make welcome appearances here in characterful performances, vividly recorded.

On the Threshold of a Bright World starts with subterranean heavings, as if reluctantly giving birth to pitch, motif and harmony. Gentle Emanation summons the listener more imperiously, with Ustvolskaya-style drum strokes followed by high-register, cloud-like drifting, likewise promising great things to come. As for fulfilling that promise, Artyomov's favoured unbroken spans of 35 to 40 minutes certainly test the concentration. But he has the courage of his convictions. He styles each symphony 'in continuous episodes', evidently unconcerned that episodic, in the traditional conception, is the opposite of symphonic; and for the most part his inventive powers carry him over the divides. For ears attuned to the likes of, say, Adès or Benjamin, or symphonists such as Nørgård, Ruders, Tüür and Aho, Artyomov's post-Berg-and-Scriabin language, with its rich chromatic harmonies cut across by flashes of expressionist lightning, may simply sound too coarse. But this is music that belongs in the frankly declamatory world of Schnittke and Gubaidulina, and it's surely hard to deny its communicative urgency and grandiloquence. When the symphonies' opening gambits return, there is an unmistakable sense of a journey travelled and of emotional states transfigured into spirit.

The fill-ups are not unproblematic. Tristia II , with its narration of Gogol poems (unfortunately not reproduced in the booklet), wears its spirituality so obviously on its sleeve that I suspect many will find it more embarrassing than inspiring. In the percussion concertante Ave atque vale the combination of echoes of Mahler's Tenth with toy instruments à la Pärt's Second Symphony (which figure also in Gentle Emanation) tests my tolerance levels to the limit. The hymn Ave, crux alba sounds as though patched together from Mahler's Eighth ('Blicket auf'), bits of Allan Pettersson and a pre-echo of the soundtrack to Love, Actually.

Having said that, all the performances here are terrific, and they surpass in sonic terms the Melodiya recordings (and Olympia reissues) that were my introduction to the composer. Robert Matthew-Walker's booklet-notes argue at passionate length for Artyomov's uniqueness and importance.
David Fanning