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Dmitri Smirnov Concerti

I have received from Dmitri Smirnov two CDs including his two Triple Concerti, which should certainly be pieces for enterprising bass players (such as Conrad Canonici) to explore.

The first, for saxophone, piano & double bass, with strings and percussion, is included in a disc of concerti from Smirnov's earlier years in Moscow (he and his wife Elena Firsova settled in UK in 1991 and became British citizens in 1998). There are two piano concertos and one for violin; a well worth while disc to acquire from the Meladina Records collection (MRCD 0028).

The second Triple Concerto, for Violin, Harp, Double Bass and Orchestra, was premiered by the LSO at the Barbican 26 May. The new work is related to Smirnov's music for a BBC-2 TV documentary GULAG, and is "a diverse and multi-angle view of the Stalinist USSR - not a flattering one at all".

The commission was made at the initiative of Rinat Ibragimov, the principal double bass of the LSO. Some years ago in Moscow he participated in a Moscow performance of Smirnov's First Triple Concerto, Op. 21 (1977) for alto saxophone, piano, double bass, strings and percussion, and he thought that possibly it would be a good idea to have a new triple concerto for him and his friends Gordan Nikolitch and Bryn Lewis. "I decided to use 7 woodwind, 3 brass, extended percussion (34 players !) and full strings. My first intention was to create sort of a musical portrait of Russia, where originally I am from, a kind of retrospective view from outside."

The three movement work is based on two completely different principles: on one side atonal 12-tone row-series, on the other, some very tonal folk tunes. These two opposite worlds constantly interplay and penetrate one another. Smirnov wanted to write a piece with really virtuoso parts for the soloists and to produce a rich orchestral texture. Episodes for the soloists are juxtaposed with massive orchestral tutti, suggesting a real competitiveness - the most familiar concept of the concerto genre. He also wanted it to be clear and accessible to the ordinary listener and so "did not try to avoid some sort of simplicity and a relation to the principles that are deeply rooted in the Russian music tradition".

It is a full length work, echoing Shostakovich and the anarchic polystylism of Schnittke. This was the first of an enterprising series of commissions from the London Symphony Orchestra to celebrate their centenary year. It's an admirably democratic scheme, in which the players have chosen the composers; Smirnov will be followed throughout next season by Richard Bissill, Huw Watkins, and Karl Jenkins, not all household names. I hope it will lead to a CD on the LSOLive label?

See also Russian Music Discovery: - - Dmitry Smirnov , who emigrated to UK before the collapse of the USSR, described the nervousness of composers after constraints were lifted, and how thaws were only temporary. Of Smirnov's own music, I heard at this discovery day only his little tribute to Denisov for cello with musical glasses, included in a Portrait CD of Smirnov, Megadisc MDC 7818. However, there have been ample opportunities to explore his music further, as he is now well established on the London scene with his composer wife Elena Firsova and their gifted pianist daughter Alissa - -

© Peter Grahame Woolf