Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

50 YEARS AFTER STALIN - a Russian Music Discovery Day
organised by the Centre for Russian Music, Goldsmiths College University of London

Sofiya Gubaydulina Rejoice!
Nikolai Korndorf Yarilo
Ivan Sokolov Rodina
Alfred Schnittke Sonata No.0

Sergey Prokofiev Sonata for solo cello op.133
Dmitry Smirnov Elegy for solo cello and crystal glasses 'Edison Denisov in memoriam'
Ivan Sokolov Thirteen Pieces
Alexander Raskatov Dolce far niente
Peteris Vasks Book for cello
Ali-Zade Habyl Sayahy for cello & piano
Alfred Schnittke Klingende Buchstaben for solo cello
Galina Ustvolskaya Grand Duet

Vladimir Tarnopolsky Troisty Music
Giya Alexandrovich Kancheli L'istesso Tempo
Nikolai Korndorf Are You Ready, Brother?

Daniel Hope violin
Rainer Moog viola
Alexander Ivashkin cello
Ivan Sokolov piano

Hastening to South Bank from Blackheath's Sunday Morning concert, I heard the items listed above , those comprising most of the last three concerts in a compendious day-long study event organised by Prof. Alexander Ivashkin of Goldsmiths.

In a discussion chaired by Norman Lebrecht, about music in Russia since the deaths on the same day of Stalin & Prokofiev, there was general concern expressed that leading conductors, who programme recent Russian music by some of these composers in Russia, seem reluctant, or are frequently prevented, from doing so abroad.

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; this is 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.

Not possible to review every work heard, so I summarise two of the chief tendencies that emerged; satirical music theatre, politically directed (though sometimes in code) and other music, mainly slow and ponderous, of 'spiritual' purpose. We are indebted to Alexander Ivashkin as virtuoso cellist and a catalyst, indeed powerhouse, of high profile events of which this was a typical example, attracting the the ex-Soviet musical fraternity who are settled in and around London.

Some of the scheduled composers (Knaifel & Silvestrov) were dropped because of over-run of a packed time-table. Others were represented by deliberately boring &/or disconcerting works, e.g. Raskatov's 'Sweet doing nothing' says all in its title. Tarnopolski, in his trio, sought to 'create an illusion of emptiness'; leaving us never knowing when the tuning-up finished, he succeeded! I am assured that he has written better music, and those who came only for the evening concert missed a lot of fun and they will have heard only three ill-matched heavy, ponderous pieces; they might have felt disinclined to explore further Nicolai Korndorf, who had emigrated to Canada and died there, and it would be their loss.

There are always immense dangers in representing unknown composers by a single work. Those who were at the Purcell Room during the afternoon will however never forget Korndorf's Yarilo, a spectacular tour de pianistic force which left Ivan Sokolov's piano crying for mercy by the end. Nikolai Korndorf (1947-2001) left Russia and became a Canadian citizen in 1991. Yarilo is a powerful and completely riveting piece which builds to its climax by stealth and incorporates piano preparations which are only revealed towards the end; at one point we feared that a particular note had given up, but this developed into a woodpecker motif; Yarilo is available on one of a number of CDs distributed in the foyer by Mr Korndorf's widow, Galina Averina, who welcomes contact for information about his music. On Amazon.com you can listen to extracts from Nikolai Korndorf's A New Heaven (BBSO/Lazarev with Catherine Bott; Sony 66824)

Ivan Sokolov as composer was another welcome discovery for me and I had not previously seen him perform live. I had selected his as the most recommendable recording in a comparative review of Ustvolskaya's piano sonatas; he joined Ivashkin for a cello and piano recital which was dominated by Ustvolskaya's Grand Duet (try to hear Rosptropovich's recording of it) and during the day he turned out to be also an original composer with a very personal sense of humour. That was demonstrated in a music-theatre piece Rodina, which required violinist Daniel Hope to simulate a fatal collapse on stage, as Kagel famously did conducting his fiftieth birthday piece Finale, and in Sokolov's thirteen acrobatic, and deceptively childlike, piano pieces - 'very often their titles do not correspond with their meanings'; Russians like to remain enigmatic.


Peter Grahame Woolf

© Peter Grahame Woolf