Vladimir Martynov, born in 1946, is one of the cohort of composers that includes Arvo Pärt, Giya Kancheli, and Valentin Silvestrov, who grew up under the influence of the former Soviet Union and abandoned the modernism of their youth to embrace a tonal language of greater simplicity with an aesthetic informed by an intimate spirituality. In spite of the similarities in their backgrounds and journeys, each has a distinctive sound, and Martynov, who is perhaps the least well-known in the West, brings a new perspective to the tradition of European music shaped by mysticism and minimalism. On the surface Martynov's music doesn't have an immediate resemblance to minimalism (apart from the directness of its tonal language), but like minimalism it uses repetition as a structural element and it is concerned with the perception of the passage of time, which it tends to stretch out with almost unbearable poignancy into what commentator Greg Dubinsky describes as "a prolonged state of grace." His harmonic vocabulary is characterized by the fecund tonal richness of post-Romanticism without the angst or decadence sometimes associated with the music of that era. The two composers Martynov references in the pieces recorded here are Schubert and Mahler, both of whom had immense expressive range but were especially noted for the pure, unsentimental sweetness they could summon. Der Abschied (The Farewell), written in memory of the composer's father, draws on material from Das Lied von der Erde. It opens with a bleak, sinking desolation, but over the course of its 40 minutes the music blossoms into an unabashed hyper-Romanticism of unguarded expressiveness and intense sweetness. Martynov wrote his Schubert-Quintet (Unfinished) for the current members of the Kronos plus Joan Jeanrenaud, the group's original cellist. Its two movements take as their core material the rising octave figure of Schubert's great C major Quintet, and the composer interweaves other themes from the Schubert throughout. Martynov originally wrote The Beatitudes for chorus, but arranged it especially for Kronos. The performances are wrenchingly heartfelt, steeped more in the kind of old-school Romanticism of groups like the Budapest Quartet than is typical for Kronos, but the approach is utterly appropriate for the music. Nonesuch's sound is clean, warmly immediate, and vibrant. Martynov could provide an ideal entryway into contemporary music for listeners open to new works and new ideas, but who tend to be shy of dissonance. Highly recommended.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins