Simon Smith Performs Piano Sonatas by Valentin Silvestrov

Piano Sonatas Nos 1-3; Classical Sonata; Children’s Music 1; Nostalghia

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COMPOSERS: Silvestrov
LABELS: Delphian
ALBUM TITLE: Valentin Silvestrov
WORKS: Piano Sonatas Nos 1-3; Classical Sonata; Children’s Music 1; Nostalghia
PERFORMER: Simon Smith (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: DCD 34151

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There’s a magical quality to Valentin Silvestrov’s work that is almost unique in contemporary music. Particularly mesmerising is his piano music, which focuses on the more intimate aspects of his musical outlook. It’s an intimacy that is reflected most obviously through Silvestrov’s predilection for creating a velvet carpet of sound. The piano writing is characterised by a subtle employment of the una corda and sustaining pedals, and there are allusions to a wide variety of different idioms ranging from Ukrainian folk music to liturgical chant.

Simon Smith’s engagingly performed and atmospherically recorded recital offers a fascinating insight into the composer’s development from the 1960s through to the 1980s, with the hypnotic Nostalghia of 2001 providing a haunting postlude. Smith places the three piano sonatas as the centrepiece of the programme, juxtaposing these substantial works with the more modestly conceived first set of Children’s Music and the witty homage to 18th-century styles that makes up the Classical Sonata.

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From the listener’s perspective, the Second Sonata (1976), with its angular melodic leaps and strange percussive hammering of the bass strings, is the most challenging of the three. Yet the trajectory of the work, moving from initial turbulence to the calm reflection of the final section, is most satisfying. In contrast, the First and Third Sonatas appear to be more traditional in outlook offering intriguing references to Bach peppered with some piano sonorities that are encountered in the work of Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Erik Levi