Valentin Silvestrov: Requiem for Larissa

National Choir and Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, Volodymyr Sirenko

Featured Artists Recorded

February 2001, Kyiv Radio House

Original Release Date


  • Requiem for Larissa
  • 1I. Largo
    (Traditional, Valentin Silvestrov)
  • 2II. Adagio - Moderato - Allegro
    (Traditional, Valentin Silvestrov)
  • 3III. Largo - Allegro moderato
    (Traditional, Valentin Silvestrov)
  • 4IV. Largo
    (Taras Shevchenko, Valentin Silvestrov)
  • 5V. Andante - Moderato
    (Traditional, Valentin Silvestrov)
  • 6VI. Largo
    (Traditional, Valentin Silvestrov)
  • 7VII. Allegro Moderato
    (Traditional, Valentin Silvestrov)
Grammy Nomination 2005
BBC Music Magazine, CD of the month
The Ukrainian Valentin Silvestrov has established himself over the past three decades as a “composer of farewells”, of long slow elegies to Romanticism, to melody, to tonality gradually and ineluctably effaced by time … This aesthetic stance finds its perfect and tragic justification in the “Requiem” he composed in 1997-9 following the death of his wife, Larissa. The fervour of its melancholy lament is extraordinary … The awesome slow-motion keening is rendered more poignant by musical imagery of wind and storm, as of a shrouded uncaring landscape … Despite or because of its piercingly personal quality this work strikes me as one of the most affecting and momentous of modern Requiems. The Ukrainian forces project it with the kind of numbed, reverent dolour it demands.
Calum MacDonald, BBC Music Magazine
Written after the unexpected death of his wife, the musicologist Larissa Bondarenko, Silvestrov’s Requiem portrays all the dark despair of loss illuminated by an almost redemptive light. … In the opening section words diappear into nothingness, musical phrases drift away – it’s like a meditation with reflective pauses. Eventually the anger and despair break through and this is the pattern throughout. In the fourth section the words of the requiem mass give way to a poem of farewell by Taras Shevenko, which is followed by the Agnus Dei where Mozart hovers in a most unusual manner. The work is given a stunning performance by all the performers, the richness of the men’s voices contrasting with those of the women’s. Although slow moving throughout, it is totally gripping.
Shirley Ratcliffe, Choir and Organ
At the heart of the Requiem is his Taras Shevchenko setting, “The Dream”, as breathtakingly moving here as in its original place in the cycle “Silent Songs”. Otherwise he fragments the Requiem text and disposes its incomplete phrases across seven mostly slow movements; only the “Lacrimosa” survives intact. The choir features a basso profundo section and three soloists who gently ease in and out of the texture. …
Initially I wondered if the music might not have benefited from an acoustic with rather more bloom on it. But Silvestrov’s scoring has its own built-in echo chambers, which are extraordinarily telling when he brings them into play, and the central movements are effectively distanced. nor is there any doubting the devotion of the performance – the composer’s compatriots do him proud. Paul Griffiths’s booklet-note shows how the poetic aspirations of ECM’s documentation can be taken on board without pretentiousness or wishful thinking. …
Whether or not you know the fragile, haunting sound world of Ukraine’s senior composer, this is a disc I urge you to try.
David Fanning, Gramophone
Understandably, requiems are among the most powerful pieces of music ever written. No exception here. Creatively mixing choir, symphony, and synthesized sounds and structures, Requiem for Larissa is as groundbreaking as it is moving. The crown jewel is the fourth movement’s bare vocals accompanied by a sparse harp. The ensuing pianissimo harmonies resonate with the listener’s central nervous system, creating a vehicle for experiencing, and looking through, profound loss.
David Lynch, The Austin Chronicle
Es handelt sich erwartungsgemäß nicht um eine Totenmesse im traditionell liturgischen Sinne. Der lateinische Text des Requiems erscheint nur in kurzen Bruchstücken, manchmal in Silben zerstückelt. In der Mitte des siebenteiligen Werkes steht ein ukrainisches Trauerlied des Dichter Taras Shevchenko. Ein von schwarzen Bässen grundierter Chor, ein „normales“ Orchester, dem Klavier und Synthesizer spezifische Farben geben, solistische Aufsplitterung der Chorstimmen – dies sind die Mittel, deren sich Silvestrov bedient, wobei die Harmonik zwischen rein tonalen Dreiklang-Kadenzen und atonalen Bildungen, letztere vor allem im Orchester, schwankt. Dass bei dieser scheinbaren Vielfalt dennoch am Ende der Eindruck eines beklemmend Geschlossenen entsteht, legitimiert das Verfahren. ...
Es ist schwer, sich der Faszinationskraft dieser unkonventionellen Requiem-Komposition zu entziehen, zumal die Wiedergabe des 2001 in Kiew eingespielten Werkes exemplarisch genannt werden muss. Der offenbar in der Tradition russischer Chorkunst stehende National Choir of Ukraine „Dumka“ mit seinen prachtvollen, dunkel timbrierten Stimmen und auch das Nationale Symphonieorchester der Ukraine unter Volodymyr Sirenko lassen Silvestrovs Gedenkwerk eine Darstellung angedeihen, die unter die Haut geht – bei aller Buntheit der Mittel.
Alfred Beaujean, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Rien de gai dans la messe des morts, mais que de chefs-d’œuvre écrits en son nom! De Mozart à Verdi ou, plus près de nous, Ligeti, le requiem a toujours inspiré les compositeurs. Achevé en 1999, celui de Valentin Silvestrov rend hommage à son épouse, la musicologue Larissa Bondarenko, brutalement disparue trois ans plus tôt. Vaste fresque pour chœur mixte et orchestre, Requiem for Larissa ne cesse de surprendre et d’émouvoir tout au long de ses 52 minutes. ...
Superbement chantées par le Chœur national d’Ukraine, les lignes de basse profonde rappellent les grands moments de la liturgie orthodoxe. Dans l’Agnus Dei, c’est l’ombre de Mozart et de la tradition classique viennoise qui affleure comme un rêve enchanté. A défaut de ressusciter l’être aimé, Requiem for Larissa s’insinue dans le labyrinthe des souvenirs pour en ramener quelque chose qui ressemble à une consolation.
Luca Sabbatini, Tribune de Genève
“There is a tradition in Russian culture,” Gramophone noted recently, “of the auto-didactic artistic genius whose work transcends the culture of his time – Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Platonov being prime examples in literature, Mussorgsky in music. And this transcendental model is what Silvestrov’s contemporaries draw on when they describe his work.” The late Alfred Schnittke referred to Valentin Silvestrov (born Kiev, 1937) as “the greatest composer of our generation”, Arvo Pärt expressed similar sentiments in a recent New Yorker interview, and both in the Ukraine and across the former Soviet Bloc there can be few composers today who are held in comparable esteem by their peers. In the West, his reputation continues to spread.

Nonetheless, Silvestrov himself felt when writing his “Requiem for Larissa”, between 1997 and 1999 that it would be his last composition (in fact, four years would pass before he would begin another major work, the Seventh Symphony of 2003). The sudden death of his wife, musicologist and literary scholar Larissa Bondarenko, in a Kiev hospital in May 1996, had stunned the composer. Not only a champion of his music, Bondarenko had been an integral part of its evolution for more than 30 years, and the “Requiem” reflects on the life she and Silvestrov shared, the things they achieved together.

“Time in Valentin Silvestrov’s music is a black lake,” writes Paul Griffiths, in the liner notes to “Requiem for Larissa”. “The water barely moves; the past refuses to slide away; and the slow, irregular stirrings of an oar remain in place. Nothing is lost here. A melody, which will rarely extend through more than five or six notes, will have each of those notes sounding on, sustained by other voices or instruments, creating a lasting aura. Elements of style, hovering free of their original contexts, can reappear from Webern, from Bruckner, from Mozart, from folksong. But yet everything is lost. Every melody, in immediately becoming echo, sounds like the reverberation of something that has already gone. Every feature of style speaks of things long over. Silvestrov’s creative destiny for many years has been the postlude: his works revive past music especially Romantic symphonic music in the very act of lamenting its disappearance.”

Or, as Silvestrov once famously put it, “I do not write new music. My music is a response to and an echo of what already exists.” His poetic, “metaphorical” style of composing has alluded to the entire history of music (and other arts), viewing the past through the cracks in modernism, as one writer remarked.

Silvestrov's Requiem draws on the longstanding tradition of the Latin Mass for the Dead, but it uses the text almost entirely in fragmented or even shattered form. “During the two centuries and more since Mozart,” notes Griffiths, “the text has outgrown its original liturgical function to become an adaptable frame for human responses to death, responses of grief, anger, fear and hope in varying measures, ranging in tone from the grandly public to the intimately private, and differing too in presumed location, whether church or concert hall. Composers have edited the text accordingly. Silvestrov’s choice, though, is different: his is a Requiem in which words are not so much trimmed away as forgotten. Phrases are begun, then left adrift, as if the singers could not remember how to continue. Perhaps they are trying to avoid what must come next, undo the occasion in which they are participating. Perhaps they are too shocked to speak.”

“It is as if Silvestrov’s mind were constantly withdrawing into an interior space in order to find room for remembered images sheltered by music and uttered with its breath”, writes Tatjana Rexroth.

For all the tragic circumstances of its genesis, the “Requiem” contains some of Silvestrov’s most compelling and intimate music, “extraordinarily beautiful lissom music” as Gramophone called it last year.