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Sunday, June 19, 2005
New Music From Eastern Europe
N.B. Ratings from 0-11. 0 for resembling life under Communist dictatorships, 11 for life under freely-elected Democratic governments.

Petrovart: Roumi Petrova, Project Bacillus Bulgaricus

Roumi Petrova is a violist and composer hailing from Bulgaria who now lives in New York. Trained in her native country as a classical musician, her first serious exposure to Bulgarian folk music came only when she turned to composition in her early twenties. Petrova is a member of the Forte String Quartet, and she seems to center her composing activities around the group. While seeking to strike a balance between "folk" and "classical" elements, her compositions unfortunately bear little of the raw energy that makes for exciting folk music, and little of the imagination that makes for exciting classical work. Itís all pretty tame, and the performances for the most part reflect this lack of musical energy. Rating: 5.

A Polish Requiem (2 CDs)
Krzysztof Penderecki
Naxos

A searing articulation of the sufferings of Poland in the twentieth century, Pendereckiís sprawling "A Polish Requiem" took the composer thirteen years to write and almost as long to get on CD. The result is an almost unqualified triumph. Adopting a theatrical approach to the text that recalls Verdiís Requiem, Penderecki whips up the orchestra, chorus, and soloists into climaxes of frightening and ferocious intensity. With a seemingly unlimited pallet of sonority and color, he marches the listener through vast landscapes of agonizing dissonance and blissful consonance Ė somehow managing to hold the work together through clear inter-movement motivic connections and the recurrence of the hymn "?wi?ty Bo?e" (Holy God). Arresting moments for percussion as well as vocal and instrumental solos keep the timbrel profile of the music fresh, and Pendereckiís detours into the avant garde techniques that made him famous feel purposeful and seamlessly integrated into the whole. This is the closest thing Iíve reviewed all year to a must-have. Rating: 10.

The Mandelstam Cantatas
Elena Frisova
Megadisc

Frisova (b.1950) is a Russian composer whose works were looked down upon by the Soviet regime, but who now is getting a chance to sing. This disc presents three song cycles for soprano and chamber ensemble based on poems by Oleg Mandelstam. Frisova resembles Schnittke in her free (and sensitive) use of tonality, but her music has a fantastic bent to it one normally doesnít associate with the latter composer. She has a wonderful gift for tone color and her harmonies break out into lovely and well-earned major and minor triads. But everything is slow and soft: more rhythmic energy and fewer languorous textures would have made this collection more enthralling. Still, there is much to enjoy. Rating: 8.

Ukraine Composersí Series, Set One (2 CDs)
Angelok

Angelok 1 presents a two-CD set of orchestral music by a half-dozen Ukrainian composers all of whom, for some reason, have ties with the city of Kharkov in western Ukraine. Most of the pieces are utterly forgettable, but itís unclear whoís really responsible. The represented composers were all born before 1950 and doubtless had to work for most of their careers within the confines of Soviet aesthetics. They likely had little exposure to post-1950 musical developments in the West, and musical experimentation Ė even of a modest degree Ė would have been frowned upon. On the other hand, most of these composers are still living, and the program notes do not say when any of the compositions were written. Perhaps some of them are post-Soviet. Whatever the reasons, the first CD dishes up piece after piece of hackneyed bombast and warmed-over lyricism. Itís hard to imagine feeling passionately about any of it. Disc Two is better. Vitaly Gubarenkoís (b. 1934) Chamber Symphony No. 2 and "Choreographic Scenes from ĎZaporozhtsyí" have far and away more energy and imagination than anything else on the collection. Overall, however, music in Kharkov for the last few decades seems to have been a pretty sad story. Ratings: Disc One, 5; Disc Two, 8.

 



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