Ustvolskaya: Violin Sonata; Trio; Duet CD review – Kopatchinskaja projects sharply and ferociously

[From The Guardian]

Though she produced music for official, public consumption, Galina Ustvolskaya’s reputation as one of the most tantalising and original of the post-Shostakovich generation of Soviet composers rests on just 21 pieces, composed between 1946 and 1990, most of which, because of their modernist tendencies, were scarcely, if ever, performed in her homeland until the 1990s. Born in 1919, she studied composition at the Leningrad Conservatory with Shostakovich, who thought very highly of her music, though she once said: “There is no link whatsoever between my music and that of any other composer, living or dead.” Towards the end of her life (she died in 2006), she rather angrily distanced herself from him and complained of always being referred to as a Shostakovich pupil. But he, along with Bach perhaps, does seem to have been the starting point for Ustvolskaya’s singular creative journey, which is represented on this strikingly intense disc by three works – the Trio for clarinet, violin and piano of 1949, the Violin Sonata, written three years later, and the Duet for violin and piano, which dates from 1964, and seems to belong to another musical world altogether.

It’s possible the influence went both ways, and that the pared-down sound world and stark gestures of Ustvolskaya’s music had an effect on her former teacher’s works, leaving its mark on the almost skeletal textures and expressive exposure of late Shostakovich. Textures in his Viola Sonata sometimes seem close to passages in the extraordinary Duet, though the sonata never dares to explore the musical and emotional extremes that Ustvolskaya’s music, with its terrifyingly basic thematic material, regularly visits. Nothing is ever resolved in the Duet; catastrophe may be avoided, but it remains close by.

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