Nastasia Khrushcheva: Normal Music (Melodiya)

In troubled times for Russia, this album hints at the future of the country’s music

Lebrecht's Album of the Week


Neither the sleeve notes nor the internet tells us much about the composer of this hypnotic and vaguely disturbing album from the Russian state label. These are troubled times in Russia, the eve of war, and the music pretends at a bleak normality. Its composer is 34 years old, an associate professor at the Department of History of Foreign Music of the St Petersburg Conservatoire. Any family connection to the former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev may, or may not, be incidental.

I wonder what the old shoe-banger would have made of this music, most of it written for piano and strings orchestra. The melodies are frugal and the rhythms monotonous. This is Russian minimalism with a vengeance, and a few chess moves up its sleeve. Unlike Glass, Reich, Adams, Gorecki or Pärt, it does not proceed by small incremental steps towards an inconclusive outcome.

Being Russian, it loses patience. First with itself, then with us. Just when we think we know where Ms Khrushcheva is going, she drops the ball and chases off in another direction. Unsettling as this may be, it becomes a pattern and then an expectation. Nothing here will last forever.

The biggest piece here is The Book of Grief and Joy, but I’m drawn equally to the short Trio in Memory of a Non-Great Artist. Imagine that. If western organisers were just a point or two less navel-gazing, we’d be hearing Khrushcheva at this summer’s leading festivals. On the other hand, we might be at war by then and my thinking becomes wishful. But if you want to know where Russian music is heading right now, this is a brilliant, battered gateway.

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