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Vyacheslav ARTYOMOV (b. 1940)
The Way to Olympus -in one movement (1978-2008) [33:18]
USSR State Academic Symphony Orchestra / Timur Mynbayev
Gurian Hymn (1986) [13:46]
Academic Symphony Orchestra of the Moscow State Philharmonic / Dmitri Kitaenko, Yevgeny Smirnov, Tatiana Grindenko, Yelena Adjemova (violins)
Preludes to Sonnets – I, II and III (1981) [9:45]
Anton Batagov (piano)
Concert of the 13 (1967) [13:17]
Piotr Meschaninov (piano), Soloists of the USSR Academic State Symphony Orchestra / Gennady Rozhdestvensky
rec. Moscow, 1986 (Symphony); Moscow, 1987 (Gurian Hymn); Moscow, 1990 (Preludes); Grand Hall of Moscow Conservatory, 1977 (Concert of the 13)
DIVINE ART DDA25171 [70:36]

I am not conscious of ever having heard any music by Russian composer Vyacheslav Artyomov; in fact, I have never heard of the man himself. Based on the four-excellent works on this new CD from Divine Art, this is a major oversight on my behalf.

Looking at the background of this disc, I see that there are some 25 CDs issued by the Gramzapis Label dedicated to his music. Rob Barnett and Michael Cookson have reviewed the two previous issues of Artyomov’s music on Divine Art (DDA25143, DDA25144) for MusicWeb International.  These include the Symphony - On the Threshold of a Bright World (1990 rev. 2002) and the Symphony - Gentle Emanation (1991 rev. 2008).

There is a detailed biography of the composer on his website. Just a few notes are necessary here. Vyacheslav Artyomov was born in Moscow on 29 June 1940.  He studied piano and composition. For several years he worked as a music teacher, répétiteur, theatre musical directorships and music editor. Since 1977, Artyomov has concentrated on composition. In 1990 he was Composer in Residence at the University of Nevada. Artyomov’s early music was ‘neo-folkloric in style’; he was also interested in traditional music from the Orient. With other musicians, Artyomov formed a group performing on non-classical folk instruments. His other inspirations included Arthur Honegger’s Symphonie Liturgique, and the music of Edgar Varèse, Olivier Messiaen and Luciano Berio.

What does Artyomov’s music sound like? I would suggest that if listeners are comfortable with Alban Berg and late-Scriabin, they will enjoy this CD. Other parallels would include the music of Arvo Pärt, Krzysztof Penderecki and even some modern film music. Sometimes the mood heads toward a big-band sound. Don’t take these comparisons as hard and fast; just use them as a yardstick.

The opening track is the main event - the Symphony: The Way to Olympus which was composed in 1978 and dedicated to his wife, the poet Valeriya Lyubetskaya. It was premiered in Moscow on 13 January 1987. The composer writes that the symphony ‘conveys the idea of overcoming inertness and passivity for the sake of movement, an aspiration for perfection, for finding integrity in one's inner development.’ I am not sure what this really means: perhaps it has lost a little ‘immediacy’ in the translation.  The symphony is the first of four in the cycle ‘Symphony of the Way’ and serves as an introduction to these following three works: ‘On the Threshold of a Bright World’, ‘Gentle Emanation’ and ‘The Morning Star Arises’. The score is headed with a quotation from the Roman poet and playwright Seneca: ‘… and then, maybe, you will achieve the peaks, or that places about which you alone will know that they are not yet the peaks’. Again, I am sure that this needs ‘unpacking.’

The Way to Olympus represents the first steps on a long journey by the musical hero, who may or may not be the composer himself, that leads towards Olympus, the source of life and salvation. Written in ‘sonata form’, this is a complex, thoughtful and ultimately satisfying symphony. If it had a chance, I believe it could be one of the ‘great’ examples of this genre for our time.

I was struck by the meditative quality of Artyomov’s Gurian Hymn.  It was composed in 1986, once again dedicated to his wife, Valeriya Lyubetskaya, and based upon a West Georgian Easter Song, ‘Christ has Arisen.’ Lyubetskaya writes that this tune is used as a ‘cantus firmus’ and is deployed in the deepest registers, signifying that this ‘religious tradition is the true basis of conscious existence.’ Laid over this fundamental structure is a strand of small bells, vibraphone and [larger] bells, creating a numinous background. A third layer of this work is the trio of solo violins. This is meant to symbolise ‘heroes’ living in an ‘angst ridden’ world. Each responds to hopes, sufferings, despair and optimism.  The final strand of this music is the string orchestra which acts as the world at large: the ‘popular masses.’ This force almost obliterates the ‘heroes’. However, all is not lost. The work ends with ‘salvation’: the hero ‘finds comfort and consolation in [their] faith, impregnated with a premonition of [their] own immortality.’ Whether one wishes to listen to this heartfelt music with the ‘religious’ or ‘philosophical’ (Übermensch?) meaning in mind, or prefers put that to one side, it is a gorgeous work that is both inspiring and thoughtful. The concept of the four disparate layers working out their own destiny is memorable and moving.

I enjoyed the contemplative and enigmatic Preludes to Sonnets. This would appear to be the composer’s only work for solo piano. It was composed after reading Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s (1875–1926) Sonnets to Orpheus, translated into Russian by Valeriya Lyubetskaya. These highly symbolic poems were written in 1922 and explore the legend of the Greek god who was a musician, poet and artist. I guess the key element of these Preludes is the fact that Orpheus’s harp music was so perfect and serene that even the passions of the wild beasts were stilled. Vyacheslav Artyomov’s music parallels the beauty of the sonnets, with its emphasis on the everlasting cycle of life and death. They remind me of late Scriabin; truly stunning.

The final work on this CD is the Concert of the Thirteen Wind, Piano and Percussion Players, written in 1967 for an ensemble of two flutes, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, two trumpets, trombone, piano (plus celesta or glockenspiel) and percussion instruments (three players). This is probably the most challenging of the four works presented on this CD and is certainly the most ‘modernist’ in its sound world. However, it is both approachable and musically enjoyable.

The Concert of the 13 is written in four, well-balanced movements. There is an Overture, followed by an intense slow movement featuring the oboe, then follows a dynamic scherzo. It concludes with what the composer describes as a ‘miniature piano concerto.’  The liner notes suggest that the work is like a game in which all thirteen musicians compete and often cooperate in various groups and combinations. It is an exhilarating work, full of energy and fun; there are even elements of jazz in the final movement.

The booklet has been a tremendous help in my reviewing this CD of music that is totally unknown to me.  There is an introduction to the composer’s life and times, several paragraphs on his ‘musical philosophy’ and a general overview of his compositions. The programme notes are written by the composer, with supplementary details by Valeriya Lyubetskaya. The booklet is presented in English and Russian. I have spelt (I hope) the names of performers etc. as written in the insert: there are, it seems, several ways of transliterating the Russian language.  The CD has been well-remastered from the original Melodiya recordings; for example, the clarity of the Concert for 13 dating from 1977 is, for me, perfect.

This CD is an interesting musical exploration that is both compelling and satisfying, even if some of the philosophical underpinnings are a little obscure.

John France




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