The Italian word malinconia was very commonly used in the nineteenth century as a title for melancholy pieces. Yet the idea of malinconia covered a myriad of romantic notions, so that simply translating it as "melancholy" does not do it justice. It subsumes many other emotional states as well - all kinds of dejection, gloom, unknown sadness, desperation, depression and even frustration. Each language has evolved its own terms, and interpretations of the word itself also differ from region to region. Malinconia in sunny Italy or Spain is quite different from melancholy in Norway and in Finland, where the winters are harsh and long. The Nordic variant is expressed here in various musical examples; words alone are anyway inadequate.
Since 2001, ECM has enthusiastically championed the art of Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov with recordings of his orchestral, chamber and vocal works – creations that stand as some of the most arresting and moving in contemporary music. This continues in Silvestrov’s 75th birthday year with “Sacred Songs”, the seventh album ECM has devoted wholly to the composer’s music; it collects sets of songs, refrains, psalms and prayers composed from 2006 to 2008 that reflect the composer’s late-blooming interest in writing for a cappella voices, which led previously to the ECM releases “Requiem for Larissa” and “Sacred Works”.
This second volume of miscellaneous chamber works contains all of the music that is not a formal quartet, quintet, or sextet. In includes the piano trios, the wonderful Terzetto for two violins and viola, works for solo instrument and piano, pieces for piano four-hands, and all of those little, undefinable works, some of which (such as the Bagatelles for two violins, cello, and harmonium) are magnificent.
A devoted disciple of Falla, Ernesto Halffter (less avant-garde a composer than his older brother Rodolfo or his more famous nephew Cristobal) gave up so much of his time and energy to the colossal task of making sense of, and completing, his mentor’s Atlantida that his own output remained modest, consisting chiefly of a chamber opera, ballets, concertos for violin and for guitar, and a handful of other works. The first of his Esquisses symphoniques (written before he was 20), the exuberant “Chanson du lanternier”, is heavily indebted to early Stravinsky: more individual (though with Debussian overtones) and very impressive both for its orchestral writing and its eloquence, is the second, “Paysage mort”. But it was his sizeable Sinfonietta, completed shortly afterwards in 1925, which really attracted attention at home and abroad. There have been three or four previous recordings of it (including the very last recording – on Spanish Columbia – made by the conductor Ataulfo Argenta), but none are currently in the catalogue.
Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov (b.1937) is an important contemporary voice in vocal music. In this new release, Silvestrov’s hauntingly beautiful vocal works are performed by the Latvian Radio Choir under their director Sigvards Kļava. During his artistic career, Silvestrov has explored a number of musical styles and techniques, such as avant-guard, post-modernism, neo-classicism, dodecaphony, aleatoric writing and pointillism. The fall of the Soviet Union, however, allowed Silvestrov to eventually compose spiritual works, inspired and influenced by his love of the Russian Orthodox Church music which Silvestrov imbues with his own unique sound and bursts of surprising harmonic moves. Silvestrov’s compositions are invested with the composer’s own unique personality, musical sensibility and sense of beauty.
One of the former Soviet Union’s leading composers and a member of the so-called Armenian ‘Mighty Handful’, Arno Babadjanian was admired by musicians of the stature of Shostakovich, Khachaturian, Rostropovich and David Oistrakh. He was also an outstanding pianist and a very considerable virtuoso. Babadjanian’s music explores his native Armenian folk tradition as well as elements of jazz and twelve-tone techniques…
Alexander Arutiunian was one of the most prominent composers in the USSR, one of the representatives of the Armenian ‘Mighty Handful’ and much admired by Shostakovich. An accomplished pianist, Arutiunian created virtuoso piano works that are rooted in Armenian folk traditions while expressing, in the words of Hayk Melikyan, “a rich palette of emotions reflecting both his time and the history of his nation”…