The Classical Reviewer

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 60th 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