Released in time for the great Ukrainian composer’s 80th birthday on September 30, Hieroglyphen der Nacht features Valentin Silvestrov’s music for solo violoncello and for two cellos. German cellist Anja Lechner has had a long association with Silvestrov, first documented on the Grammy-nominated leggiero, pesante in 2001. Here she plays, alone, Augenblicke der Stille und Traurigkeit (of which she is the dedicatee), Lacrimosa, Walzer der Alpengöckchen, and Elegie (which calls for her to play both cello and tamtams). Lechner is joined by French cellist Agnès Vestermann, a frequent duo partner, to play Drei Stücke (dedicated to both musicians), 8.VI. 1810…zum Geburtstag R.A. Schumann, Zwei Serenaden, and 25.X.1893…zum Andenken an P.I. Tschaikowskij.
The pianist Alexei Lubimov has championed the music of those Soviet composers who explored an avant-garde style in the 1960s under the influence of the West, but then retreated from high modernism and sought a new style that could both offer a way forward and still allude to the sentimentality of the Classical and Romantic eras. The Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov is a famous example of such a career arc, and here Lubimov performs his first three sonatas for solo piano, followed by a sonata for cello and piano where Ivan Monighetti appears.
Alfred Schnittke and Arvo Pärt have both called the Ukrainian Valentin Silvestrov "one of the greatest composers of our time”. He is also one of its true originals; though a leading figure in the former Soviet Union’s avant-garde in the 1960s, he subsequently came to realise that "the most important lesson of the avant-garde was to be free of all preconceived ideas – particularly those of the avant-garde." Silvestrov was born in Kiev in 1937 and studied the piano at Kiev Evening Music School, then composition, harmony and counterpoint at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory. His early experimental orientation meant that his work received official criticism in the Soviet Union and, despite prizes and some prominent champions, recognition in his homeland and beyond was hard won. Over time, Silvestrov’s compositional practice evolved into what he would come to call his “metaphorical style” or “meta-music.” The composer wishes his works to be seen as “codas” to musical history because “fewer and fewer texts are possible which… begin at the beginning”. He has declared that “I do not write new music. My music is a response to and an echo of what already exists.”
The Book of Genesis tells us that in the beginning was the Word and that the Word was sound. But what if it was music? What if God, in contemplating the creation of Creation, sang being into being? If so, it might have sounded something like the Sacred Songs of Valentin Silvestrov. In this seventh ECM album devoted to the Ukrainian composer’s music, we thusly encounter a sense of space unique to the Russian liturgy: the more the voices unify in movement, the more they lift from one another like temporary tattoos, leaving behind mirror images that wash away with baptism into infinite oneness with the Holy Spirit. Sin as sun. Firmament as fundament.