Silvestrov – Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Silvestrov
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Symphonies 4 & 5
PERFORMER: Lahti SO/Jukka-Pekka Saraste
CATALOGUE NO: BIS CD 1703

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 Silvestrov’s music has evolved into a kind of endless keening nostalgia for the confidence, the melodic and harmonic riches, of the 19th-century symphonic tradition up to Mahler. Over the past decade or so this has come to seem a stance with limited returns. But not in the Fifth Symphony (1980-82), admired as one of his most significant works.

Here Silvestrov’s now-familiar strategy – a loud, vigorous opening whose energy dissipates through the draining-out of rhythmic interest, into free-floating laments and reminiscences and false glimpses of serenity – really receives its classic statement in a single sizeable 40-minute movement which, for once, also integrates large-scale contrast with a dissonant, turbulent central episode.

The materials here, often evoking Renaissance music, are defined enough to be rated excellent; the piece is superbly orchestrated and haunts the mind through its sure handling of a sometimes radiant tonal harmony continually seeking, but always just failing, to make contact with its roots.

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The shorter, more vigorous Fourth Symphony for brass and strings (1976) sounds like a trial run for the Fifth. BIS’s recording wonderfully captures all the layered sonorities and resonances of Silvestrov’s orchestral web, and the Lahti Symphony play as if possessed. Calum MacDonald