Ustvolskaya

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COMPOSERS: Ustvolskaya
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Violin Sonata; Clarinet Trio; Duet
PERFORMER: Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin); Markus Hinterhäuser (piano); Reto Bieri (clarinet)
CATALOGUE NO: 481 0883

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Two of these spare, often acerbic and austere works by Shostakovich’s favourite pupil – the Violin Sonata and the Trio – were composed not in the late 1960s but towards the end of Stalin’s reign. Not surprisingly, they were not performed until long after the dictator’s death. Both have been recorded several times, including on a previous ECM album with an excellent Russian trio. ECM’s new recording offers just as masterful and compelling performances from a Moldavian violinist, Swiss clarinettist, and Austrian pianist, with a more resonant acoustic which suits the music surprisingly well – especially the Duet for violin and piano of 1964.

This later work initially appears to be a series of obsessive and mostly aggressive sounds suggestive of splintering shards of ice or booming bells; these gradually build up to a Rite of Spring-style dance of death, before being finally transformed into something gentler, even hauntingly beautiful. Ustvolskaya’s choice of dissonances and evocative chords have a precision of aural imagination which seem to bloom in ECM’s empty hall acoustic.

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Daniel Jaffé