VALENTIN SILVESTROV leggiero, pesante

Of all the words in music’s vocabulary, one of the commonest is "farewell" Many of the world’s greatest songs are addressed to the departing: the recently dead, lost lovers, missed opportunities. Music speaks of these things as memory speaks, makes us aware both of distance and of remaining closeness. Nothing is lost, music says: it is here. But also: it is here only because it cannot come back. … When it addresses leave-taking specifically, it has terms that include some of the oldest in the Western tradition. A four-note scalewise descent in the minor mode has been an image of lament since the Renaissance, and perhaps it accounts for the atmosphere of sadness that often gathers around minor-key harmony. A final cadence, particularly in slow music, can also sound like a valedicition, because this is the point at which music not only expresses passing but itself recedes.
This vanishing and this eternal presence have been the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov’s persistent topics through the last three decades, since he was in his 30’s and, like his Soviet contemporary Arvo Pärt, heard the past sounding through the gaps in modernism. …
At the opening of the First Quartet, for instance, there are the falling phrases and the omnipresent cadences that convey appeased grief, all at a very relaxed tempo and in a harmonic ambience as straightforward as that of a folk song. The Barber Adagio is only a step away. But then the picture begins to cloud. An expected harmony does not arrive and cannot be found. The instruments start slowly circling because they cannot think what else to do. Inexplicable dissonances creep in. The music seems to be losing its way, and eventually it just comes to a sounding stop on a sustained soft discord, fading into toneless whispers.
There is an effort here to refresh aged notions. Because Mr. Silvestrov’s turns of phrase are never quite completed – or because any completion sounds partial and tentative – they reach to some extent from the realm of the borrowed to speak firmly and newly. And they help themselves do so both by taking on novel timbres ( the vibratoless sounds of the quartet) and by extending a strong appeal to their performers (an appeal to which a particularly powerful, rich and vital response comes from the cellist Anja Lechner and the pianist Silke Avenhaus in two works). (Paul Griffiths, The New York Times)

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