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Album review: BBC Music Magazine / Classical Music (UK)

BBC Music Magazine (UK), 18 April 2023

Valentin Silvestrov: Silent Songs

Konstantin Krimmel (baritone), Hélène Grimaud (piano) (DG)

5.0 out of 5 star rating
Valentin Silvestrov
Silent Songs – selection
Konstantin Krimmel (baritone), Hélène Grimaud (piano)
DG 486 4104   54:23 mins

Born in Kyiv in 1937, Valentin Silvestrov came to prominence in the 1960s as a leading proponent of the ‘Kyiv avant garde’. His Silent Songs, a song cycle composed between 1974-77, proved an unexpected return to tonality. These slow, meditative songs are, in the composer’s words, ‘silence set to music’. The full cycle takes almost two hours to perform, so this album offers a selection of 12 songs and was recorded live in Germany in August 2022, in the presence of the composer just a few months after his reluctant departure from his homeland. Hearing the work performed live adds to its intensity, and Konstantin Krimmel and Hélène Grimaud deserve the highest praise for their poised and unaffected account of this beautiful, dreamlike music.

The opening track ‘Song can heal the ailing spirit’ (text by Yevgeny Baratynsky) is arresting in its simplicity and power, and Krimmel’s warm sound and nuanced interpretation is perfectly matched by Grimaud’s subtle pianism. ‘I will tell you with complete directness’ offers a crisper mood, setting Osip Mandelstam’s darkly-comic view of the world’s harsh realities. ‘Farewell, O world, farewell, O earth’ sets an extract from Taras Shevchenko’s ‘The Dream’, a poem which led to the Ukrainian poet’s arrest and exile in the 1840s, and like much of the disc, is almost unbearably moving in its finely-tuned balance between emotional expression and restraint.

Kate Wakeling