Valentin Silvestrov performing at the Jewish Museum Berlin, Germany (Photo by Kai Bienert/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Lebrecht's Album of the Week

Music for a disintegrating world

Valentin Silvestrov: Widmung, Postludium (Naxos)


Days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, a  composer in his 80s was smuggled out of the country under conditions of secrecy and considerable danger. Silvestrov arrived eventually in Berlin with just one suitcase, filled with music manuscripts. He lives now in Berlin exile, as a guest of a local musical functionary.

The two works on this album portray a composer struggling with forces of history and fate on his doorstep. Widmung (Dedication) is a kind of violin concerto written for Gidon Kremer in 1990 as the Soviet Union was collapsing. Silvestrov’s wife, Larissa Bondarenko, died around the time of its Munich premiere. Kremer’s recording, for a now-defunct label, vanished into ether (though it can be found on AppleClassical).

Silvestrov pieces together fragments of a disintegrating world, using orchestral instruments to maintain a semblance of continuity. The effect is, at once, disturbing and consoling. The violin flits in and out, seeking meaning and survival. The ear is drawn to its pilgrim progress, retaining one phrase while anticipating the next. Across three-quarters of an hour, the concerto creates a meditative space, a shelter that is as trusted as it is illusory. A tender episode in the second movement reflects on all that might have been. The evocative soloist is Janusz Wawrowski; Christopher Lyndon-Gee, a Silvestrov specialist, conducts the Lithuanian national symphony orchestra.

Postludium for piano and orchestra, dating from 1984, plays with and around a 12-note row that seems to be applying for membership in western modernism. Before long, however, Silvestrov finds his comfort spot in passages of contemplative transcendence, broken only by the plinking of a decentralised piano. I can’t get enough of it. This is a truly important composer with an original voice.

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