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Vasyl BARVINSKY (1888-1963)
The Silenced Voice
Piano Cycle “Love” [16:50]
Eight Preludes [26:08]
Suite on Ukrainian Themes [25:43]
Violina Petrychenko (piano)
rec. 2017; venue not given
World première recordings

As a music lover, I am most saddened when I hear about musicians, be they composers or performers, who have suffered at the hands of regimes which cannot tolerate dissent of any kind and thus betray their own vulnerability.  History is unfortunately full of examples, among which the composer of the music on this disc is but another. At one time, Vasyl Barvinsky was the principal representative of 20th century Ukrainian music and was renowned throughout Europe.  He was a trailblazer in the music of his native country, composing the very first cycle of piano preludes, the first piano sonata, the first sonata for cello and the first sextet in all Ukrainian music.  As history has shown, it was easy to fall foul of totalitarian regimes which saw enemies everywhere. Guilt by extension was a common theme, so the fact that one of Vasyl Barvinsky’s brothers was a doctor with the infamous Galicia (Galizia) division was sufficient to ensnare the composer as well.  Pianist Violina Petrychenko, who also wrote the notes, omits to explain that this division was formed at the behest of Heinrich Himmler in the aftermath of the defeat of the German army at Stalingrad. One could certainly forgive the Soviet authorities for arresting all they could of the Galicia division, whose oath was: “I swear before God this holy oath, that in the battle against Bolshevism, I will give absolute obedience to the commander in chief of the German armed forces Adolf Hitler, and as a brave soldier I will always be prepared to lay down my life for this oath”, given that they were engaged in a life and death struggle with the Nazi war machine.  The existence of that division is still celebrated today in Ukraine and the those of its members buried in Britain are often commemorated by the “Sieg Heil!” of Britain’s ultra-right fanatics. It is sad, however, that someone like Barvinsky, whose association with those anti-Bolshevik forces was only familial, should have been caught up in that way and, ironically, suffered an even worse fate than his brothers, being condemned to a long period of painful interrogation, forced by physical threats to sign false confessions, then sent with his wife to the gulag for ten years.  Even that wasn’t enough for the Soviet authorities, who were determined to snuff out the strong sense of Ukrainian identity in whatever form it took and publicly burnt all Vasyl Barvinsky’s compositions. It has been only in recent years that copies held by former students, performers and libraries have turned up, enabling this disc to be recorded; hopefully there will be more, and not just of his piano music.

Turning to his music, it is Romantic in the best sense of the word, its lyrical beauty reminiscent of many composers writing between the late 19th century and the outbreak of the Second World War - and beyond, in certain cases.  His cycle Love shows his early maturity in terms of composition; it has a strong sense of unity, describing the joy and pain of love, especially when lovers are perforce separated, and evoking the lovers’ longing and fond memories of when they were together without cares. It concludes with the expression of Pain which, through Struggle, is overcome and ends in The Victory of Love.  There is a disarming gentleness about the music which charms the listener and its facility will win many admirers.

The delightful piano preludes will also be sure to attract fans. There is a refreshing quality about them which, given that they are the first excursion into writing in this form by a Ukrainian composer, is understandable.  Their simplicity brings to mind Grieg’s Lyric Pieces.  There is a youthful freshness about them and I imagine that young students of the piano would find them a worthwhile exercise.

The last offering here is Barvinsky’s four-part Suite on Ukrainian Themes, which treats four Ukrainian folk songs to exploration and development. The first three are short pieces, while the finale is a set of variations culminating in a fugue.  The second, a scherzo entitled On the road, up and down, is recognisably folkloric in its melody describing, if I’m not mistaken, the Ukrainian national dance practised by the Cossacks, known as the hopak.  The suite describes a lovelorn girl bidding farewell to her lover who goes off to join the Cossacks (third section, Do not shine, oh little moon) and in the last section he remembers her during a fight.  As with all the pieces on this disc, while we are not talking about great music, it is nonetheless delightful in its simplicity, and when you read of the crass attempts of the Soviet regime to wipe out Barvinsky’s memory - a policy that was practised against dozens, if not hundreds, of creative people - it seems all the more important to redress the balance today and to resurrect as much as possible of the music of composers like Barvinsky.

Violina Petrychenko is a pianist who sees herself as a conduit whereby exposure of the music of lesser or completely unknown composers can be effected, and her commitment comes through strongly in these sympathetic readings.  Her first solo recording, Slavic Nobility (Ars Produktion ARS38153), included works by Victor Kosenko, another marginalised Ukrainian composer; then came Ukrainian Moods (Ars Produktion ARS38195), which introduced us to more music by Kosenko, Revuzkij, Kolessa and Schamo; all of them, as here, were world première recordings.   If Petrychenko does nothing apart from uncovering unknown music such as this, she will have done a great service not only to Ukrainian culture but to listeners everywhere and I applaud her efforts.

Steve Arloff



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