Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006) insisted that she wrote no chamber music: instrumentation alone could be no index of her music’s intentions. Her works are infused, she said, with a religious spirit, and the powerful, rhythmic stringency of the music testifies to the relentlessness of her vision. Although Shostakovich had been one of her teachers, Ustvolskaya maintained that her music resembled that of no other composer, living or dead, and put herself outside all stylistic “schools”. She followed only her own austere, unforgiving path. Its sense of concentration is sometimes ferocious; her work, said Viktor Suslin, has the "narrowness of a laser beam capable of piercing metal.” Entering its sound-world calls for a special kind of commitment. With prescience Shostakovich said of her art, “I am convinced that the music of G. I. Ustvolskaya will achieve worldwide renown, to be valued by all who perceive truth in music to be of paramount importance.” Many years had to pass for this prediction to be fulfilled, but Ulstvolskaya’s music is increasingly being taken up by artists. On the present disc, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, pianist Markus Hinterhäuser and clarinettist Reto Bieri rise to its challenges.
The intensity of Ustvolskaya’s music is well-matched with the driven performance style of Patricia Kopatchinskaja who was recently voted “Instrumentalist of the Year” by the Royal Philharmonic Society, its jury of musicians hailing her as “an irresistible force of nature: passionate, challenging and totally original in her approach.” Her aim as an interpretative player, is “to communicate the meaning and inner workings of the music. Curiosity drives me to explore many different musical frontiers." Her repertoire has addressed music from Bach to Cage and beyond. Kopatchinskaja feels that Ustvolskaya’s 1964 Duet is amongst the 20th century’s most powerful compositions: “Here is no place for ‘beauty’. In order to rise to the expressive power of this music the interpretation has to go to the extremes.” The 1952 Sonata, meanwhile, “gains quality and depth with each repeated playing (and listening). In the beginning the violin repeats a hammering phrase, - the stonemason working on a tombstone. This pulse prolongs itself through the whole piece, sometimes interrupted by irregular breaths and sighs – a lonesome soul walking through an endless Russian landscape. The music of Ustvolskaya is like a ritual, taking the listener into a unique and archaic world, where there is no place for comparisons or theoretical analysis.”
The present recording of Ustvolskaya’s music was made at Lugano’s Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera in March 2013, and produced by Manfred Eicher.