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


Vladimir Martynov - Vita Nuova

Tatiana Monogarova - Beatrice

Mark Padmore - Dante

Marianna Tarasova - Amor

Joan Rodgers - Secret Woman


London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski - conductor


Royal Festival Hall, London, 18 February 2009





Vladimir Martynov belongs to a generation of post-Soviet composers (a group that includes Alexander Knaifel and Valentin Silvestrov) that feels unburdened by, or at least ambivalent towards, historical responsibility. The results can seem breathtakingly nonchalant to Western European sensibilities, but they can also be imaginative and fresh.


Vita Nuova, a setting of Dante’s poem, tells the story of Dante’s love for the noble Beatrice, and the pain of her death. In his music, Martynov freely borrows stylistic cues from the repertoire of Western music from Perotin to Schoenberg. This approach is particularly prevalent in the first of three acts, but it makes for an unsettling start. Rather than making any deeper statement on our ‘post-historical’ times, so many of these stylistic references sound like shortcut word-painting: astringent 4–3 suspensions when the choir sing of Dante’s love for Beatrice, atonal harmonies when the mood turns darker. However, for all this polystylism, the fact is that every sound is filtered through the Romantic paradigm of the symphony orchestra. This is important, because it gives the music a sonic character with a relatively specific geographical, temporal and stylistic orientation. When the music is so wedded to one particular place and time, it is hard to place one’s faith entirely in the free interplay of stylistic reference.


Things get better in the second and third acts as the unending sequence of allusions began to gather in large, static pools. The story of these two acts is of death – the death of Beatrice, then Dante and, ultimately, a Requiem mass for us all. The final minutes enact a gradual departure from the stage of soloists, choir and orchestra, leaving only a celesta and vibraphone to accompany our spirits into the afterlife.


If Martynov’s piece is an opera, it is only so in the first act, since after this what little dramatic interaction there has been is entirely expunged. Yet the relentless drawing out of death in the second two acts needs the passions of the first act in order to function dramatically. In this way the first act may be viewed as the set-up for one colossal punchline. Perhaps the same might be said of the music: the early merry-go-round of stylistic touchstones as necessary to articulate the ‘post-compositional’ cultural decay of the second half. Perhaps. It is an idea that coheres dramatically in Martynov’s piece, but for it to work musically we must accept his hypothesis that we are in a ‘post-compositional’ period of culture in which anything goes, and that non-attendance to stylistic matters can still yield satisfactory musical results. On the evidence of my ears tonight, despite excellent performances from all concerned, I stand unconvinced.


Tim Rutherford-Johnson


See also Gavin Dixon in Seen&Heard

and Tim Ashley in The Guardian - "dire, every moment of it",