Galin Ustvolskaya: Chamber Music

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COMPOSERS: Ustvolskaya
LABELS: Northern Flowers
ALBUM TITLE: Ustvolskaya
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 1; Octet; Violin Sonata; Grand Duet for Cello and Piano
PERFORMER: Alexander Kosoyan, Khanyafi Chinakaev (oboe), Mikhail Waiman, Alexander Stang, Arkady Liskovich, Abram Dukor, Fedor Saakov (violin), Oleg Stolpner (cello), Valery Znamensky (timpani), Oleg Malov, Maria Karandashova (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: NFPMA99122

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Here is an excellent introduction to Galina Ustvolskaya, whose direct and uncompromising style amazingly reached maturity under Stalin. Her teacher, Shostakovich, confessed: ‘It is not you who is influenced by me, but I by you.’ Ustvolskaya’s subsequent insistence that her work ‘is in no way connected to that of any other composer’ has contributed to her flinty music’s rather daunting reputation. Don’t be put off. Her protestation was presumably intended to jolt people into listening to what she was saying rather than how she said it: one can easily recognise in her music an expressive language derived from Stravinsky, Bartók and even Prokofiev, for all its pared down and unsentimental manner.

This CD compiles recordings made in Leningrad in 1961 (the Violin Sonata), 1976 (Octet), and 1985 (Piano Sonata No. 1 and Grand Duet). Only the earliest recording really shows its age with a rather dry and muffled acoustic: but the actual performance of the Violin Sonata by Mikhail Waiman and Maria Karandashova is excellent. So too are the other performances. Oleg Malov’s account of the First Piano Sonata is appropriately and severely neo-classical in flavour. Perhaps the most dramatic work of all is the Octet, scored for two oboes, four violins, piano and timpani – its third section with its plangent oboes and the timpani’s steady beat sounding like a sinister relation to Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Most varied in mood is the Grand Duet, cellist Oleg Stolpner and Malov giving a by turns playful, acerbic, galumphing and serene account. 

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Daniel Jaffé