Warner’s budget Apex label is a great way of discovering new classical music, and these four contemporary works for piano and chamber orchestra were new to my ears.
Interesting, too, in that the majority of this disc is given over to a couple of the most prominent female composers of the last fifty years, the seemingly unpronounceable Galina Ustvolskaya and Sofia Gubaidulina, two important figures in Russian music.
Ustvolskaya’s Concerto is a relatively early work from 1946 and carries the weight and impact of a Shostakovich score, the heavy fast music interspersed with atmospheric and surprisingly tender slow sections. The intense closing part brings high register strings and a staccato piano together. Alexei Lubimov is a bit too heavy-handed on the keyboard at times, but the uncomfortable conflict of major and minor tonality at the end reminds you that this is a wartime piece, the strife all too evident.
The Gorecki piece could have worked better if it was placed second in the program – it’s a short Concerto made up of two movements, each one based on an obsessive ostinato that could become a bit wearing were it not for the flair accorded it by Lubimov and conductor Heinrich Schiff.
The sparkling second movement in particular is well worth hearing though, going off at a gallop. In the same vein is the Pelecis, a neo-classical and purely tonal composition in C major that seems to have travelled through several centuries to its almost poppy finale. Easily accessible, it is however the weakest of the four.
The Gubaidulina, on the other hand, is a serious work that seems to follow a question and answer format rather like that of the Mass, with piano and orchestra set against each other, combining finally towards the end with a long trill on the piano before the piece subsides. Orchestration is at its most imaginative in this work, some truly weird flute and bassoon sounds barely perceptible at the sombre opening.
This is a natural calling point if you’ve heard Arvo Part’s music before and are keen to experience more contemporary music from the same region. Performances are of a committed, high standard and the close recorded sound reflects the intimate nature of much of the music.