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Galina USTVOLSKAYA (1919-2006)
Complete Works for Violin and Piano
Sonata for violin and piano (1952) [19:47]
Duet for violin and piano (1964) [29:32]
Evgeny Sorkin (violin), Natalia Andreeva (piano)
rec. 2018, Sydney Conservatorium of Music Recital Hall, Australia
DIVINE ART DDA25182 [49:19]

Ustvolskaya confides in you, but with an unwaveringly intimidating gaze and towering concentration. Performances demand and here receive such qualities. It is made clear to the listener and to artists that there is to be nothing of glamour, neon or La Vegas about the accomplishment of this music.
This composer stayed and lived in the Soviet Bloc unlike Kancheli, Schnittke, Gudaidulina and Pärt. She was comparatively sparing when it came to numbers of scores produced. However I would mention her symphonies (review review) on Megadisc and other music on the Russian label Northern Flowers. Natalia Andreeva wrote the disc’s notes which are in English and which range far and wide and deep. Andreeva’s name should have been familiar to me. In fact she recorded Ustvolskaya’s complete works for solo piano for Divine Art on a quite properly applauded 2-CD set.

Ustvolskaya’s Violin Sonata of 1952 is calm but oh so bleak There’s no consolation on offer. Instead it is memorable for a wooden pulse and, in track 4, a ticking unpianistic sound. As I have said before when reviewing another performance of the Violin Sonata, this is an implacable piece. There is one instance where the violin makes a pass in the direction of vulnerable humanity. Otherwise the impression given is that the Russian winter has entered the soul. It’s all very sparse and spartan. A dozen years later and the seven-movement Duet refuses to fool about or relax much. There’s variety there and it encompasses bloodless but violent stabs carried by the poniard of the violin (Espressivo) and leaden-booted dissonance as well as a very distant frost of the soul. The fourth movement suggests some terribly cruel planet while the penultimate movement rumbles and is interrupted by dramatic interjections that stab into the body of the music. Only the In tempo final section - the longest - makes a first tentative step in the direction of melody - as if the other movements have paid the dues for such ‘indulgence’.

Peter Graham Woolf wrote an instructive and invaluable note about Ustvolskaya in the earliest days of this site. It’s still worthy of close study.

Divine Art are to be thanked for fine accounts of music - well played and recorded - that has little time for conventional sheen or veneer. Somehow, while you are listening the fact that the CD runs just shy of fifty minutes is of little account.

Rob Barnett

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