Released in time for Valentin Silvestrov’s 80th birthday on September 30th these “Hieroglyphs of the Night”, works for solo cello and for two cellos, exemplify the Ukrainian composer’s music at its most secretive and mysterious. These are quiet pieces. Silvestrov has spoken of “silence set to music”, and the hushed world of the compositions makes extreme demands of its interpreters with detailed, poetic performance instructions to play “with exalted unimportance” or “like the beating of a dragonfly’s wings.” As so often with Silvestrov, several of the pieces take the form of metaphorical conversations with composers of the past and the present. Tchaikovsky, Schumann and Mansurian are amongst the composers referenced here. “My own music is a response to and an echo of what already exists,” says Silvestrov, viewing his oeuvre as a series of “codas” to music history.
German cellist Anja Lechner has been playing Silvestrov’s music for twenty years now,
“First I heard a recording of the Fifth Symphony,” she recalls in a performer’s note in the CD booklet. “The music touched me deeply, I could almost say that it changed me: I was so moved by its delicate, breathing sounds and melodic fragments, interwoven with contrasting textures, finally dissolving into the air.”
Lechner subsequently recorded chamber music by Silvestrov with members of the Rosamunde Quartet and pianist Silke Avenhaus on the Grammy-nominated album leggiero, pesante in 2001. Two years later Silvestrov wrote the solo piece Augenblicke der Stille und Traurigkeit for her. Lechner plays it on the present recording, along with other solo pieces Lacrimosa, Walzer der Alpenglöckchen, and the strikingly unusual Elegie, which calls for her to play, simultaneously, both cello and gongs (for this piece, the soloist is flanked by tam-tams). Lechner: “Especially in the solo works, Silvestrov is very often playing with the idea of two voices or characters or concepts – shadow and light, or past and present, present and future. In the Elegie the tam-tam is obviously the shadow… I like the motions I have to make with the bow to play the tam-tam and to strike the strings of the cello, creating a melody without playing arco…”
Lacrimosa is dedicated to Tigran Mansurian, another composer with whom Anja Lechner has worked closely (see for instance the recording Quasi Parlando on which she is a soloist and the Rosamunde Quartet’s account of Mansurian’s String Quartets).
Lechner is joined by French cellist Agnès Vesterman to play Drei Stücke (dedicated to both musicians), 8.VI. 1810…zum Geburtstag R.A. Schumann, Serenaden, and 25.X.1893…zum Andenken an P.I. Tschaikowskij. Again, the challenges are many and unconventional. In the liner notes Silvestrov associate Tatjana Frumkis speaks of the composer’s insistence that the duo pieces must sound like a single cello with expanded possibilities, or a ‘cello four-hands’. The cellists alternate in contrasting roles, a leading part and an accompaniment of “Orphic arpeggiated pizzicatos.” Much of the action takes place in the cello’s high register, compounding the technical demands.
The duo of Anja Lechner and Agnès Vesterman was formed in 2009, when Lechner was invited to play all of Silvrestrov’s solo and duo music for cello at the Nostalghia Festival in Pozna, Poland. Lechner: “I knew the playing of Agnès from a recording with Garth Knox on ECM [see the albums D’amore and Saltarello]. I liked her warm, earthy tone and knew that she played free projects with early, contemporary and improvised music. She responded immediately and gladly to Silvestrov's music. Since then we not only share his melodies but also a love for his music.”
Arvo Pärt and the late Alfred Schnittke both described Valentin Silvestrov as "one of the greatest composers of our time”. He is also one of contemporary music’s true originals; though a leading figure in the former Soviet Union’s experimental music of the 1960s, he subsequently came to realise that "the most important lesson of the avant-garde was to be free of all preconceived ideas – including those of the avant-garde."
Silvestrov was born in Kiev in 1937 and studied the piano at Kiev Evening Music School, then composition, harmony and counterpoint at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory. His early experimental orientation meant that his work received official criticism in the Soviet Union and, despite prizes and some prominent champions, recognition in his homeland and beyond was hard won.
Over time, Silvestrov’s compositional practice evolved into what he would come to call his “metaphorical style” or “meta-music.” His recordings on ECM include leggiero, pesante, Silent Songs, Requiem for Larissa, Metamusik/Postludium, two albums of sacred music with the Kiev Chamber Choir, the monumental Symphony No. 6, and the uncategorizable Bagatellen und Serenaden, which includes both orchestral music and the composer playing reflective solo piano.
Anja Lechner has appeared on more than 20 ECM albums spanning a wide range of musical idioms, from contemporary composition to improvisation. Ongoing projects include duos with Argentinean bandoneon master Dino Saluzzi and with French pianist François Couturier, and membership of the Tarkovsky Quartet. Recent appearances on ECM New Series have included the album Mirror with music of Tõnu Kõrvits. Further details at www.ecmrecords,com and Lechner’s own web site http://www.anjalechner.com
Hieroglyphen der Nacht was recorded at Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, and produced by Manfred Eicher.