Desyatnikov: The Leaden Echo

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COMPOSERS: Desyatnikov
LABELS: Quartz
WORKS: The Leaden Echo; Return; Du côté de chez Swan; Variations on the Obtaining of a Dwelling; Wie der Alte Leiermann… ; Moscow Nights: main theme
PERFORMER: William Purefoy (countertenor), Dmitri Bulgakov (oboe), Anton Dressler (clarinet), Roman Mints, Anna Panina (violin), Maxim Rysanov (viola), Kristine Blaumane, Boris Andrianov (cello), Alexei Goribol, Leonid Desyatnikov, Jacob Katsnelson (piano) etc


A major figure among Russia’s post-World War II generation of composers, Leonid Desyatnikov seized attention with Rosenthal’s Children (2005). Commissioned by the Bolshoi Theatre, his opera upset conservative audiences with its portrayal of cloned classical composers – cue for wickedly sharp parodies by Desyatnikov – set loose in present-day Moscow, culminating in Mozart finding romance with a prostitute.

Desyatnikov, though, is more than a mischievous iconoclast. In this first all-Desyatnikov album released in the UK, we are transported to an eerie, sometimes dream-like and often disturbing soundworld. The pastoral woodwind which open Return suggest Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale before plunging into a more edgy and acerbic manner. Du côté de chez Swan for two pianos starts with the clang of Russian bells followed by fragments of Saint-Saëns’s ‘Swan’ dissolved into a variety of musical styles ranging from Ravelian magic to Wagnerian yearning.


But it’s the title track, a harrowing setting of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s Leaden Echo for countertenor and instrumental ensemble which most suggests that Desyatnikov may be a successor of Schnittke’s nightmarish world. It’s a pity, then, that some of Desyatnikov’s more frankly frivolous pieces were not included, such as the charming suite Echoes from the Theatre, which might more readily charm new listeners into exploring this intriguing composer. The performances, supervised by the composer, are exemplary, though the recording quality is less so: most of them are caught in an echoey acoustic typical of Moscow studios. Daniel Jaffé