Silvestrov: Requiem for Larissa

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COMPOSERS: Silvestrov
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Requiem for Larissa
PERFORMER: Ukraine National Choir ‘Dumka’ & SO/ Volodymyr Sirenko
CATALOGUE NO: 472 112-2
The Ukrainian Valentin Silvestrov has established himself over the past three decades as a ‘composer of farewells’, of long slow elegies to Romanticism, to melody, to tonality gradually and ineluctably effaced by time. Sometimes eloquently compelling, sometimes (in my experience) tedious beyond belief, this aesthetic stance finds its perfect and tragic justification in the Requiem he composed in 1997-9 following the death of his wife, Larissa. The fervour of its melancholy lament is extraordinary, yet the multi-movement shape, recalling traditional Requiems with its sometimes fragmented passages from the traditional Latin, makes sure that none of that intensity is dissipated. The awesome slow-motion keening is rendered more poignant by musical imagery of wind and storm, as of a shrouded uncaring landscape. Roughly where a more conventional Requiem might place the Credo, Silvestrov deserts Latin for verses by the Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko, set in a simpler, almost folksong style, the tenor soloist shadowed by an almost inaudible soprano, symbol of the woman no longer there. Returning to the Latin, the music seems to attend to distant pastiche-Mozart, further miming alienation and loss. Despite or because of its piercingly personal quality this work strikes me as one of the most affecting and momentous of modern Requiems. ECM gives no hint if this 2001 recording from Kiev was of the premiere, but the Ukrainian forces project it with the kind of numbed, reverent dolour it demands. Malcolm Macdonald

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