IVAN KARABITS: Concertos for Orchestra – No. 1, ‘Musical Gift to Kiev’; No. 2; No. 3, ‘Lamentations’; VALENTIN SILVESTROV: Two Elegies: Elegie; Abschiedsserenade – Bournemouth Sym. Orch. /Kiril Karabits – Naxos

by | May 14, 2013 | Classical CD Reviews

IVAN KARABITS: Concertos for Orchestra – No. 1, ‘Musical Gift to Kiev’; No. 2; No. 3, ‘Lamentations’; VALENTIN SILVESTROV: Two Elegies: Elegie; Abschiedsserenade – Bournemouth Sym. Orch. /Kiril Karabits – Naxos 8.572633, 59:26 ****:

Ukrainian composer Ivan Karabits (1945-2002) became one of that country’s most important musical personalities after its independence in 1991. His music is influenced by Mahler and Shostakovich, with roots in Slavonic and Ukrainian folk music. He studied with Ukrainian composer Boris Lyatoshinsky, and went on to win so many awards that he won the title, “People’s Artist of the Ukraine.” His compositions include three symphonies, three concertos for orchestra, chamber music and film music. His son Kiril, who conducts these concertos, regularly leads major orchestras, and is in the process of recording a complete Prokofiev symphony cycle.

Concerto for Orchestra No. 1, ‘Musical Gift to Kiev,’ (1980-1) was written as a celebration for the 150th anniversary of the City of Kiev. As Kiril suggests, it’s an “ebullient orchestral concert curtain raiser.” It begins with pealing bells that announce the celebration and continues in its 12-minute-duration with rapidly changing moods and tempos, as if each segment pictures different aspects of Kiev’s landmarks and culture. It’s a vibrant, evocative work, rich in melody, colorfully orchestrated, and exciting. Concerto for Orchestra No. 2 (1986) is in three movements, but there’s so many different sections that the three movements become inconsequential. Energetic, sometimes frantic episodes are often punctuated by lyrical, short violin and woodwind respites, with percussively dissonant climaxes thrown in for good measure. Other sections include a mysterious, bleak cello solo, a harpsichord meditation and an ominous climax. Dance rhythms take over in the finale, with percussive brilliance, clapping and applause from the musicians, improvised bongos, with brief lyrical interludes. It’s a wild and theatrical work.

Concerto for Orchestra No. 3, ‘Lamentations’ was commissioned by Ukrainian-American composer Virko Bailey and premiered in Las Vegas in 1989. It was inspired by two horrific events – the 1932-33 Stalin-imposed Ukrainian agriculture production collectivism that resulted in seven million deaths from starvation – and the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant disaster of 1986. But it also is a musical depiction of “reflections of tragedies of life that are passed on from generation to generation.” Punctuated by a percussion instrument co-created by the composer and his then 13-year-old son (little bells woven into the tresses of hair that sound like “delicate chimes, symbolizing voices we hear from the past”) and a doleful solo horn, this 16 minute work in two movements is one of the most powerful evocations of horrific disasters you will ever hear. The fear, anxiety, pain and anger are brilliantly depicted in this evocative score. The haunting ending with the delicate chimes, string players gently singing a four note scale, and the conductor playing the piano is very moving.

The CD ends with two elegies by Karabits’ Eastern European colleague, composer Valentin Silvestrov (b. 1937). His serial compositions in the nineteen sixties resulted in exclusion from the Russian Composers Union. He won the Koussevitzky Prize in 1967 for his Third Symphony, and started writing tonal compositions in the 1970s. He’s known for his comment, “I do not write new music. My music is a response to and an echo of what already exists.” When Ivan Karabits died in 2002, Silvestrov borrowed his sketches for a work about the 18th century philosopher, Grigory Skovorda and added his own ideas to create Elegy (2002). It is a striking work for strings, heartfelt, pensive and appropriately mournful. Abschiedsserenade (2003) is also dedicated to Karabit’s memory, written for strings but more melodious and beautiful rather than doleful.

Kiril Karabits conducts his father’s compositions with gusto and warmth. This is a CD for those wishing to experience unfamiliar repertoire in the late Romantic/modern idiom.

—Robert Moon

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