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.