Ukrainian composer Valentine Silvestrov is frequently grouped with other Eastern European composers like Arvo Pärt, Giya Kancheli, and Henryk Górecki (with the British John Tavener sometimes thrown in), as a "holy minimalist." The composers have very different and individually recognizable styles, but they do have in common harmonic languages anchored in tonality (or modality), austerity of means, and a predilection for works with a contemplative, mystical tone. One characteristic of the Silvestrov works on this ECM release made up of sacred pieces, most of which are recorded here for the first time, is the composer's tendency to create clearly defined melodic lines surrounded by a radiant haze of sustained notes. The cloud of sound is sometimes static, but it generally shifts in surprising ways, supporting the melody with subtly unpredictable harmonies. It's easy to hear works' roots in Orthodox liturgical chant, but Silvestrov's free-floating harmonies give the music an individual and distinctive character. It's a sound that's not quite like what any of the other mystical minimalists are doing, but it is likely to strike a chord in listeners who love Pärt, Kancheli, and Gorecki. While the music included on this album rewards close and focused attention, and it is not all slow and quiet (particularly the exuberant setting of Psalm 150), its overall character of soulful spirituality could make it an appealing aid to meditation. The Kiev Chamber Choir, led by Mykola Hobdych, has a sound that is at once earthy and serenely pure. This is obviously deeply felt music, in the tradition of the passionate chants of the Orthodox Church, and the choir sings with intensity and unreserved emotion. The acoustics of the Cathedral of the Dormition in Kiev are beautifully suited to this repertoire, with warmth and plenty of resonance, but with enough clarity that the words are understandable. ECM's engineering is characteristically immaculate.
Valentin Silvestrov: Sacred Works Review
by Stephen Eddins