RAFAELMUSICNOTES (joint review with dda 25143):
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
GAPPLEGATE CLASSICAL MODERN MUSIC:
Here we are at the edge, the periphery of modernity and, really, nothing is working from where we sit. Yet I still believe in the future, in modernity, and so I also out of habit and appreciation respond favorably to the experimenters, those who go boldly in music where the vast majority of musical humanity has never trodden, not at least until the turn of the last century when humanity found musical wunderkind who opened up the fertile vistas of harmonic, rhythmic and melodic possibilities we as a species had never considered before.
And for all that intro I do introduce a new (to me) high modernist voice, from Russia, one Vyacheslav Artyomov (born 1940) and a CD of two choice orchestral works, Symphony Gentle Emanation and Tristia II, Fantasy for piano and orchestra (Divine Art 25144). Surprise! This is a fully developed voice in new music, someone who has carried over the mysterious cosmos of late Scriabin and Messiaen and made something new out of the unrealized potentials that lurked behind those composers's most prescient creations.
In spite of my grouchy social-critical beginnings today the music of Artyomov truly speaks to me. He has a full grasp, a vision of the modern orchestra and what he might make it do, and on these two symphonic works, two sides in a way of his vision, he combines brash and bracing dissonances punctuated by mysterious ruminations on the universe in play, at work, simply being in all its shining glory and mystery, its endless processual flux that presumably has purpose that we only have a dim idea of in our religions and our science, an idea of our place in it that we continually confront with the facts and revelations that humanity thus far has managed to gather about ourselves and the cosmos. That to me is fundamental to the modernist project, in music a sonic analog of what we do and do not know.
That is what Artyomov speaks to me, in elegant and vivid eloquence. The Russian National Orchestra under conductors Teodor Currentzis and Vladimir Ponkin bring this complex and very personal music into vivid relief against the seeming silence of the universe. Artyomov is a Russian who travels in the wake of those before and manages to say something new and different. That is a remarkable achievement and he most certainly deserves a hearing.
All you modernists and seekers of the new look no further, at least today. Give a listen to Vyacheslav Artyomov on this very moving sample of his work. It gives us another way to thread the futurist needle.
And bravo to that!
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
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.
The second album contains two works, with the opening and most substantial work the Symphony ‘Gentle Emanation ' taken from the Book of Job from the Russian Bible which is No. 3 of the cycle Symphonic Tetralogy titled ‘ Symphony of the Way '. Composed in 1991 this is a three movement score with each movement inhabited by a contrasting character yet all representing, according to the composer, an aspect of “one soul in its inspiration to overcome challenges or obstacles in its inner drama and find a way to the light.” Mstislav Rostropovich premièred the work with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington and subsequently, in 2008, Artyomov decided to make extensive revisions to the score, which is the version played here. Opening with four spaced, extremely loud drum thwacks this is a remarkably powerful score that for its considerable length maintains a mood of inexorable mystery, of an almost ethereal luminosity contrasted with tension-filled episodes of menace and anger.
Next comes Tristia II , described as a fantasy for piano and orchestra, written in 1997 to commemorate the 60th birthday of Vladimir Ashkenazy. Artyomov revised the score in 2011. Integral in Tristia II is a spoken part in the first and last episodes with Mikhail Philippov here narrating the poem and prayer by Nikolai Gogol. Opening with densely woven strings, an atmospheric mood of nervous edgy and orchestral colour is soon created and maintained. The prominent piano chords used percussively not lyrically add to the anxious disposition. Narrator Mikhail Philippov's vocal is deep and richly resonant. Unfortunately none of Gogol's Russian text is provided in the booklet, only a single sentence explanation which is scant consolation for missing out on this aspect of the composer's inspiration that he clearly felt was so important. The Russian National Orchestra excels under baton of Teodor Currentzis, giving a compelling performance that feels well-paced, producing wonderful orchestral textures. Pianist Philip Kopachevsky provides alert playing of real clarity.
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.
MUSICWEB (2)(joint review with DDA 25143):
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  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 . 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 . The solo violin returns, blessedly pristine and pure at . 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 . In section 2 there are more fury-driven outbursts, some long sustained - a gigantic Victorian steam-hammer out of control. This pummelling relents at , making way for Messiaen-like bird-song. Light begins to enter the proceedings with the tinkle of bells at . 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.
THE WHOLE NOTE (joint review with DDA 25143):
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.
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.
The music by Russian composer Vyacheslav Artyomov (born 1940) can be outlined (outside of regular style categories) by the corner points ‘archaic', ‘Christian' and ‘Eastern Meditation'. This in combination with Russian folk music creates his own style, which he describes as ‘eternal'.
In 1975 Artyomov, together with the composers Wiktor Suslin and Sofia Gubaidulina, founded the improvisation ensemble ‘Astreja', which improvised on folk instruments in order to get inspiration for their compositions.
This CD combines two large format pieces, first the Symphony ‘Gentle Emanation' which is the third part of the symphonic Tetralogy ‘Symphony of the Way', and the other ‘Tristia II' for piano, orchestra and narrator.
Symphony ‘Gentle Emanation, with 28 continuous segments and over 40 minutes in duration, is based on one section in the book of Job, in which Job awaits God. With Currentzis the piece is interpreted by a conductor who sees Artyomov as the 21 st century's Bruckner. Correspondingly he develops the piece with intensity and effectiveness for its whole duration.
‘Tristia II', which is conducted by Vladimir Ponkin, was originally a piano concerto, which has been amended by the addition of a narrator who appears for extended periods at the beginning and again at the end accompanied by a calm orchestral sound-carpet. The number of works with narrator is limited, as a concerto probably unique. The emphasis of this composition however, is on the piano part, which blends naturally in the orchestral movement. The texts are prayers for God's support of future tasks; the music is inspired by religious motives.
The Russian national orchestra is an established, successful body which devotes itself expertly to Artyomov's work. With Ponkin and even more so with Currentzis they found conductors, who are able to shape the large forms and create tension which persists. Pianist Kopachevsky mastered the piano part with excellence. The role of narrator played by Russian actor Philippov is intense, but still appears as an accessory. (awarded 5 stars)
THE CHRONICLE (joint review with dda 25143)
In [a recent review] we said that work was on a micro scale, this on a macro, it making the listener think of the vastness of space. After writing this, we noticed the stellar scenes on the CD sleeves but also that, as a young man, Artyomov was preparing to become physicist, studying music at the same time. According to Wikipedia, he considers music a science and, side by side with astrophysics, one of two main fundamental sciences. Astrophysics broadens the horizon of knowledge of the universe, music exposes the profundity and strength of human's spirit, he says.
The music on both CDs is very modern, but it's a Russian modern, bleak and hostile, invoking the endless vacuum of space. Being honest, this is the type of classical music that scares the novice, a bit like a newbie skier taking on a black run before having any lessons. You need some experience at an easier level before tackling it, though it's satisfying when you do. The sleeve notes of Gentle Emanation make the point that greatness involves newness: “You have to get used to things, especially things that hit you”.
Gentle Emanation consists of three movements, presenting the facets of the soul as it tries to reach the light. The composer is religious and the music reflects his beliefs. On The Threshold Of A Bright World on the other hand is about Russia, a reflection of the events that have taken place. Again, there is religious reference, the Book of Enoch, and again the work portrays a journey towards a bright world. Both pieces are monumental in ambition, and in sound, making any review a little trite. On The Threshold seems to use low notes to underpin the sound and give the impression of weight. Gentle Emanation opens with single, loud drum beats but possibly uses silence as opposed to bass notes to create a feeling of tension.
Both CDs certainly make an impression. The sleeve notes explain some of what's going on but Vyacheslav Artyomov demands (in all senses of the word) the listener to make an effort. It's compulsive listening.
They're both out on Divine Art, which lives up to its mission statement (“Innovative, Eclectic, Fascinating, Inspirational”) with these CDs.
AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE (joint review with dda 25144)
Both of Artyomov's records are retrospective collections of orchestral music, from as early as 1990 and revised as recently as 2011. The Russian composer writes in a range of styles, from the straightforward and neoclassical to atmospheric and aggressively modern. Sometimes themes come and go in regular phrases, organized with cadence, harmonic progression, and regular beat; other times his pieces are formed around swarms of strings in cluster chords, passing in and out of audibility through wide dynamic variation.
With this flexibility of approach his music never sounds quite stable or steady. Even short works threaten to rupture and swerve from the expected. What may start off sounding like Ligetian density and volume can quickly revert to the bizarre playfulness of a Mahler scherzo. This stylistic cosmopolitanism is a strength that keeps the music afloat, even through a couple of hours. It also presents something of a challenge, in that there is little that is predictable or that can be taken for granted in any of the works recorded here. This constant demand for attention can be tiring, but is usually rewarding. I must admit that I'd never heard of Artyomov before getting these records, but I certainly find myself wanting to hear more!
Even before you start to listen to Gentle Emanation (1991, rev. 2008), you know what to expect. The title itself, of course, is a give-away: it is taken, we are told, from a phrase in the Russian Bible describing the pregnant moment just before God appears to one of Job's comforters (the King James equivalent is "there was silence"). But there's also the booklet cover, featuring a breathtaking photo of the Whirlpool Galaxy; the program notes' description of the composer's preference for music that is "deeply spiritiual, Christian-based at times, against the public demonstration of large-scale orchestral music"; the notes' further reference to the work's "spacious nobility" and "unhurried contemplation"; the description by Octavio Roca, from a Washington Times review, that this is "music that dares simply to exist, shining like the sun, allowing us to bask in its warmth"; and the even stronger quotation from conductor Teodor Currentzis, "Artyomov now is the only composer creating serious monumental compositions of tremendous strength and beauty." We are clearly in for transcendent, even hypnotic music, slowly moving in vast spans.
In fact, from the painful opening drum whacks (reminiscent of the Mahler 10th), the work is so radically different that you might legitimately think the disc had been mislabeled. Vyacheslav Artyomov apparently dislikes traditional musical labels, preferring instead the trans-historical term "musica perennis" (a term also associated with John Tavener and translated here as "eternal music"). But for those seeking some point of orientation, this large-scale work —with its huge dynamic range, its bouts of gnarled Bergian harmonies, its vehement percussion outbursts, its anguished strivings, its Messiaenic bird-chattering in the woodwinds, its Schoenbergian flutter-tonguing—is far closer to neo-Expressionism than it is to anything by the so-called New Spiritualists. It's also—despite the reference to "unhurried contemplation"—a surprisingly hyperactive piece, one in which quick and striking gestures carry the primary aesthetic weight. Although it's a continuous work of 42 minutes, it falls into three larger sections, each divided into anywhere from eight to 11 "episodes," most of them less than two minutes long—and it shifts direction with bewildering frequency. The final section is more reflective than the first two, but even here, uneasy quiet is more prevalent than serenity. Overall, to the extent that this work is tied to Job, it seems more a reflection of his sufferings and his doubts than of his faith.
Gentle Emanation is the third in a four-part symphonic tetralogy called Symphony of the Way. Reviewing the first section, The Way to Olympus, nearly 30 years ago (Fanfare 12:2), I suggested that the "the road to Olympus twists through the Pines of the Appian Way"; and while this later installment is less garishly Respighian, it emanates (if I can use that word) the same love of spectacle. Over the years, I've become less of a snob, more susceptible to the rowdier sections of the Roman Trilogy. But if anything, that has made me less susceptible to Artyomov, where —even in the bizarre passage of the second movement where the music sounds like a post-modern response to Leopold Mozart's "Toy Symphony"—the Respighian spirit of good fun is crushed in the name of piety. Still, you should probably treat my objections with a strong dose of skepticism: Artyomov seems to have garnered the enthusiastic support of Rostropovich, Ashkenazy, Rozhdestvensky, Currentzis, and other performers—and Raymond Tuttle waxed enthusiastic over his Requiem (30:2). Certainly, if you're interested in large-scale contemporary orchestral music, you should give this a listen.
Tristia II, for piano, speaker, and orchestra (1998, rev. 2011), is shorter, gentler, and more hypnotic, a piece that's apt to whisper as often as Gentle Emanations is to scream, and (even though it too is divided into shortish "episodes"), more willing to work in longer spans. It's not quite a piano concerto —the pianist's role is closer to that in Scriabin's Prometheus than it is to that in traditional concertos; and it's got the added oddity of being bracketed by the reading of two brief bits by Gogol. although for some unaccountable reason, we're not offered either the texts or the translations. It's a far less striking piece, but it may, for precisely that reason, have greater staying power.
Both works get what sound like committed performances —and the sound is no obstacle. Warily recommended.
Peter J. Rabinowitz