Ustvolskaya: Violin Sonata; Trio; Duet CD review – Kopatchinskaja projects sharply and ferociously

[From The Guardian]

Though she produced music for official, public consumption, Galina Ustvolskaya’s reputation as one of the most tantalising and original of the post-Shostakovich generation of Soviet composers rests on just 21 pieces, composed between 1946 and 1990, most of which, because of their modernist tendencies, were scarcely, if ever, performed in her homeland until the 1990s. Born in 1919, she studied composition at the Leningrad Conservatory with Shostakovich, who thought very highly of her music, though she once said: “There is no link whatsoever between my music and that of any other composer, living or dead.” Towards the end of her life (she died in 2006), she rather angrily distanced herself from him and complained of always being referred to as a Shostakovich pupil. But he, along with Bach perhaps, does seem to have been the starting point for Ustvolskaya’s singular creative journey, which is represented on this strikingly intense disc by three works – the Trio for clarinet, violin and piano of 1949, the Violin Sonata, written three years later, and the Duet for violin and piano, which dates from 1964, and seems to belong to another musical world altogether.

It’s possible the influence went both ways, and that the pared-down sound world and stark gestures of Ustvolskaya’s music had an effect on her former teacher’s works, leaving its mark on the almost skeletal textures and expressive exposure of late Shostakovich. Textures in his Viola Sonata sometimes seem close to passages in the extraordinary Duet, though the sonata never dares to explore the musical and emotional extremes that Ustvolskaya’s music, with its terrifyingly basic thematic material, regularly visits. Nothing is ever resolved in the Duet; catastrophe may be avoided, but it remains close by.

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Book review: ‘Leningrad: Siege and Symphony,’ by Brian Moynahan

[from the Washington Post]

The Siege of Leningrad, the pitiless epic of the Nazis’ 900-day encirclement of the Soviet Union’s second city, is a story that has drawn many chroniclers — each with a special kind of bravery to attempt a fresh recounting. Brian Moynahan’s entry point is the performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony in the starving and brutalized city on Aug. 9, 1942, Day 335 of the siege and “perhaps the most magnificent, and certainly the most moving, moment ever to be found in music.”

In “Leningrad: Siege and Symphony,” Moynahan weaves back and forth among descriptions of the battlefield around Leningrad, the horror visited upon the starving city, and the galvanizing and piercing work of music Shostakovich wrote to honor his home town (now called St. Petersburg). The first two movements were written before Shostakovich and his immediate family were evacuated in October 1941 to a city on the Volga, and the complete score was flown back in nine months later, the pilot skimming Lake Ladoga to avoid detection by German fighters.

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Punk band that changed the face of Soviet Music

[from the Moscow Times]

5470-16-Letov46_2OMSK, West Siberia — Yegor Letov, the late father of Soviet and Russian punk, would have turned 50 this year. Along with his group, Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Civil Defense), or GrOb, Letov produced a music that was unlike anything the Soviet Union had ever heard, from the hardcore rush of guitars and barked obscenities that defined his uncompromising sound to acoustic, folk-like songs of alienation and despair. This was genuine rebel music, non-conformist to its core, combining Western rock and punk influences with the urban grittiness of provincial Siberia, where Letov was born and lived.

A complicated, often controversial figure, Letov was incarcerated in a psychiatric ward by the Soviet authorities during the band’s early years, and later became involved with radical political movements in 1990s Russia. Despite a Soviet-era ban and a stubborn refusal to “sell out” in the newly independent Russia, Letov’s recordings transformed him into one of the country’s most famous rock musicians. He died of heart failure in February 2008, at the age of 43. A new documentary film about GrOb’s early years, “I Don’t Believe in Anarchy,” was co-produced by Letov’s widow and former bandmate Natalia Chumakova and is due for release later this year.

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