A Shostakovich pupil, Ustvolskaya for many years remained in isolation from Western musical styles, while refusing to kowtow to those in official Russian musical circles who attacked her for modernism. Her music is thus imbued with a freshness in its aesthetic and sound, and an almost prehistoric love of directness. This cycle of works, here performed by the Schönberg Ensemble conducted by Reinbert De Leeuw, is intended to be played in a church, forming a kind of instrumental version of the mass. "Composition I - Dona Nobis Pacem" (1970-1971), a plea for world peace, is scored for the odd combination of piccolo, tuba, and piano. The shiftings and rhythmic variations are subtly complex; the listener is always aware of the raw, bracingly direct expression. "Composition II - Dies Irae" (1972-1973) is evocative like ancient Coptic Christian music. Scored for eight double basses, a cubical drum, and piano, it features some orchestral combinations that are almost brutal with prehistoric vigor. "Part X" moves through very peaceful quiet notes, an insistent chant pattern, and loud drum knocks; the effect is deeply shocking. The third section of this religious triptych, "Composition III - Benedictus Qui Venit" (1974-1975), is scored for another unusual ensemble combination: four flutes, four bassoons, and piano. Perhaps the purest of the pure, it utilizes only two primary elements: a steady beat chant harmonized in clusters distributed amongst the ensemble, and more sustained cluster groups from which a single note steadily emerges like a plea. The effect is that of people first discovering music, directly connecting their instruments to their range of feeling -- though (to borrow Buckminster Fuller's expression), not barbarically, but with little distance between emotion and the expressive medium.
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