Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"Sounds of Defiance": Violinist Yevgeny Kutik performs works of defiant ex-Soviet composers; note on a recent recital that I missed

I bought the 2012 CD “Sounds of Defiance” (through Amazon), from Marquis, a 4-composition recital by violinist Yevgeny Kutik  and pianist Timothy Bozarth.  This purchase was a bit if a Plan B, but I’ll come back to that.

Kutik’s album notes that he emigrated with his family from Belarus to the US around 1990, about age 5, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union.  This was a time when special provisions were made for Jewish immigrants from the USSR.

The four works represent four composers whose artistic freedom was seriously challenged by the political agenda of the Soviet Union.  Some good reading is the essay “The Forgotten Avant Garde: Soviet Composers Crushed by Stalin” by Andre J. Horton.

The biggest work is the Violin Sonata #1 in G, Op. 134, composed in 1968 by Dmitri Shostakovich.  Both his violin sonatas were composed late in life.  Running about 32 minutes, it comprises three movements.  The work is said to be inspired by a similar work of Prokofiev. The opening is an Andante, that has a twelve tone theme in a tonal setting.  The scherzo (Allegretto) is persistent and memorable, and somewhat conforms to the style of many of the composer’s later works. The finale is another slow movement, a 15-minute passacaglia, which ends quietly on the note A, but rings some warning bells toward the end.

The other major work is the Violin Sonata #1 by Alfred Schnittke (1963), running about 18 minutes in four brief movements.  The opening Andante seems to start with a twelve-tone row, but the music tends to become increasing tonal as it progresses.  The concluding movement is an “Allegro scherzando”, which Rachmaninoff had used in his Second Piano Concerto, but here the music winds down to a quiet, sweet ending. The idea of alternating tonality with atonality doesn’t get discussed by critics as often as it really happens.

The CD presents a Hebrew Melody, Op. 33, and a Hebrew Lullaby, Op. 35, #2, by Joseph Achron.

But the pleasant surprise is the simple “Spiegel im Spiegel”  (“Mirror in the Mirror”, 1978) by Estonian composer Arvo Part. This famous (rather “hidden in plain sight”)  little piece is often played in the movies without proper attribution. The piece, in F Major, has a simple repeated three-note motive “C-F-A” over simple shifting harmonies suggestive of Bach.

I had wanted to attend the recital at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC Sunday, January 17, 2016, where Kutik performed with pianist Timo Andres.  I looked at the Phillips website on Sunday, January 10, and the concert was already sold out, one whole week ahead.  And Phillips does not keep some seats at the door for the last minute, as do some venues (I checked).  One reason for the sellout could have been the 75th Anniversary of the facility.  The program included two works by Igor Stravinsky, and a work by Nico Muhly, as well as Andres’s new “song without words” called “Words Fail”.  (The weekend turned out to be as busy for me as a venture to NYC could have been anyway.)

Laurie Niles explains how commissioning a new work from a composer works in this story on “Violinist”   where Niles interviews Kutik about the whole process of working with a composer (and vice versa).  This might have been my life had I been born a few decades later.  We don’t get to make those choices.

Sunday morning, at the opening service at First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC for pastor Julie Pennington-Russell, a short choral work by organist-choirmaster Lawrence P. Schreiber “The Prince Family Amen” was performed.

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