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Silvestrov Symphony No 6 (two recordings)

1) SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra/Andrey Boreyko
ECM 1935 [54 mins]

2) Beethoven Orchestra Bonn/Roman Kofman
MDG937 1478-6 [53 mins]

Valentin Vassilievitch Silvestrov (b.Kiev, 1937) is a composer who divides opinion and whose music requires, above all else, a relaxed and patient mode of listening. When he first came onto the scene, I enjoyed his piano and cello sonatas [Erato 2292-45631] and Symphony No 5 and Postludium [Sony SK 66 825], both those featuring his loyal devotee, pianist Alexei Lubimov.

A good succinct introduction to Silvestrov's sound world is Ates Orga's review of the latter disc for BBC Music Magazine: " - - his belief that ‘form continues to resonate in invisible, inaudible space, in spite of a unity that exists on every level' - - a lyrical tapestry of emotions, illusions and reflections, a music of the subconscious that rolls inexorably on, like waves pounding and receding. Both works suddenly erupt with a big bang, then lingeringly spiral down into silence. Both are about repetitive melodies and encircling sequences, sensuously suggestive colours and comforting, hypnotic sounds. Memories of worlds glimpsed by visitors, from Mahler and Respighi to Hovhaness and Enya, of a space continuum where earth time all but stands still, haunt their voluptuous, ambient experience".

Symphony No 6 by this Ukrainian "avant-garde romantic" has the arch form he favours, with his romanticism overlaid with "a kind of uniquely radiant melancholy". Five movements, played continuously, its core the long, Mahlerian middle movement: "the symphony's most emotionally poignant and musically limpid expression of the crystalline nostalgia that is characteristic of the composer's aesthetic" (Stephen Eddins).

I go along with this, and enjoy (occasionally) wallowing in this sensuous bath of sound. But I can also understand a more robust response to the present disc: Silvestrov lacks Mahler's gifts as a melodist or as a musical architect, and lapses into posturing gestures. The over-heated essays in the CD booklet do Silvestrov few favours either. (Andrew Clements, The Guardian).

It is played with obvious commitment to its lingering beauties and recorded beautifully; something for late night listening or (as now) early Sunday morning on my iPod before anyone else is up... This is one to try to sample before purchase.

Peter Grahame Woolf

A second recording of Silvestrov's Symphony No 6 by Beethoven Orchestra Bonn/Roman Kofman, recorded in 2005, is released by MDG (2007). The sixth symphony is more like than unlike the fifth; if you like one and have the patience to listen to predominantly slow music, you will enjoy this one too.

Silvestrov's point of departure, according to the essay by Tatania Frumkis, is the series of overtones which surround any sounded note; he brings them into the forefront, rolling in one after another like waves on the sea-shore. You watch them from the beach (earlier this month the Atlantic in Cornwall, with surfers awaiting the next big wave) and although the scene remains much the same, you find yourself continuing to watch! Silvestrov can be similarly mesmerising, his music making a compelling effect, which some hear as spiritual...

The newer version was satisfactorily recorded in a church in Gotesberg during September 2005 and will appeal to the composer's fans; perhaps one of them will want to give Musical Pointers a comparative review; that would be welcomed...


q.v. also reports on Silvestrov's Symphony No 5 [Megadisc MDC 7836]
and the composer playing his own piano music [ECM New Series 1988]