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Valentin SILVESTROV (b. 1937)
To Thee We Sing
Alleluia (2006) [8:29]
From Liturgical Chants (2005) [12:02]
Diptych (1995) [13:49]
Two Sacred Chants (2006) [8:17]
Two Sacred Songs (2006) [7:57]
Two Christmas Lullabies (2006) [9:17]
Latvian Radio Choir/Sigvards Kļava
rec. 27-28 February, 14-15 April, 2015, St. John's Church, Riga, Latvia
ONDINE ODE1266-5 [60:01]

Like many composers of his era in Eastern Europe, Ukrainian Silvestrov dabbled in modernist techniques that wafted in from the west, incurred the displeasure of the Communist authorities, then found his voice in a spiritual simplicity. Like Pärt from Estonia and Kancheli from Georgia, Silvestrov's music has mostly reached the public by means of the ECM label. Here, however, we have a CD from the Finnish company Ondine. The liner-notes remind us of the common label for this group of composers: "sacred minimalists".

The notes also mention "his love of the Russian Orthodox Church music". The works on this disc are definitely testimony to that love.

Alleluia is a short set of sonic investigations of this single word, the scope varying along a narrow spectrum from thoughtful (especially the baritone's entry in the third, "Night" movement) to bright and spacious (supported by the female voices in the second, "Morning" movement).

In the pieces From Liturgical Chants, the "Khreunim'ska" or "Cherubic Song" is a beautiful little bit. It is the first of a number of pieces in Ukrainian, for which the notes helpfully provide Latin-alphabet-transliterated and translated texts. This is followed by another "Alleluia", which emerges with considerable force before settling into an avian lightness. "O Holy God" is rather more serious; we feel ourselves attached to the ground here, a feeling that continues with the "Ave Maria".

The Diptych has a relationship to contemporary politics that continues to shape Silvestrov's life and art: it was composed in memory of the first person believed to have been killed in the riots in Kiev in 2014 that led to the ouster of the President. The sound, however, remains as old-fashioned, even antique, as the rest.

In the Two Sacred Chants the singers create a ringing and a touch haunting space with their chords. Two Sacred Songs bring us another "Alleluia" (it seems to be a favourite text) and an "Ave Maria". The Two Christmas Lullabies are, indeed, particularly quiet and peaceful if not particularly evocative of the holiday.

The descriptions above overstate to some degree the diversity of the work on this disc. The mood here is all of one piece: quiet and deeply meditative. If you seek such musical comfort, this disc will satisfy. For me it's best taken in small doses; a whole hour's worth leads me to lose the subtle modulations in a sea of very similar music.

The Latvian Radio Choir, its director Sigvards Kļava, and the team of soloists make a beautiful sound. There's nothing to disappoint in their and the engineers' realization of Silvestrov's vision.

Brian Burtt



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