Lahti Symphony Orchestra / Jukka-Pekka Saraste

Valentin Silvestrov: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5

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Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov came of age in the 1950s and 1960s when the Soviet Union's grip on composition was strong, but as it loosened he explored the latest modernist trends before settling into the style for which he is best known, a serene simplicity that is similar in tone to much of the work of his contemporaries like Arvo Pärt and Giya Kancheli. His Fourth and Fifth symphonies, from 1976 and 1980-1982, are transitional works written with awareness of modern compositional procedures, but applied with warmth and an ear for expressive directness. They are large-scale, single-movement works, the Fourth lasting 25 minutes, and the Fifth 40 minutes. Both are soulful, emotionally charged works that use dissonance and disjunction as only several elements in the composer's extensive arsenal of devices to create music that speaks clearly to the conditions of suffering, yearning, and redemption. The warmth that glowed as an undercurrent in the more turbulent Fourth Symphony blossoms with radiant lyricism in the Fifth, particularly in the serene, idyllic second theme for strings and harp that calls to mind the mood of the Adagietto of Mahler's Fifth Symphony. Although there are punctuations of more active material, the symphony returns again and again to a tone of quiet, sometimes mystical and sometimes gently melancholy. This is a piece that could have strong appeal for a variety of audiences, including fans of late Romanticism, broadly defined minimalism, and polystylistic post-modernism. Listeners already familiar with the simplicity of Silvestrov's more radically distilled later music should find much to savor in these pieces that were part of his early exploration of that style. The Lahti Symphony Orchestra plays with pure tone and exquisite responsiveness to Jukka-Pekka Saraste, who has a finely developed understanding of the composer's music. Particularly in a work that is predominantly slow and quiet, it's easy to let the energy lag, but Saraste keeps with momentum going while at the same time giving the music plenty of time breathe and unfold in its own unhurried time.

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