Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006) insisted that she wrote no chamber music: instrumentation alone could be no index of her music’s intentions. Her works are infused, she said, with a religious spirit, and the powerful, rhythmic stringency of the music testifies to the relentlessness of her vision. Although Shostakovich had been one of her teachers, Ustvolskaya maintained that her music resembled that of no other composer, living or dead, and put herself outside all stylistic “schools”. She followed only her own austere, unforgiving path. Its sense of concentration is sometimes ferocious; her work, said Viktor Suslin, has the "narrowness of a laser beam capable of piercing metal.” Entering its sound-world calls for a special kind of commitment. With prescience Shostakovich said of her art, “I am convinced that the music of G. I. Ustvolskaya will achieve worldwide renown, to be valued by all who perceive truth in music to be of paramount importance.” Many years had to pass for this prediction to be fulfilled, but Ulstvolskaya’s music is increasingly being taken up by artists. On the present disc, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, pianist Markus Hinterhäuser and clarinettist Reto Bieri rise to its challenges.
The intensity of Ustvolskaya’s music is well-matched with the driven performance style of Patricia Kopatchinskaja who was recently voted “Instrumentalist of the Year” by the Royal Philharmonic Society, its jury of musicians hailing her as “an irresistible force of nature: passionate, challenging and totally original in her approach.” Her aim as an interpretative player, is “to communicate the meaning and inner workings of the music. Curiosity drives me to explore many different musical frontiers." Her repertoire has addressed music from Bach to Cage and beyond. Kopatchinskaja feels that Ustvolskaya’s 1964 Duet is amongst the 20th century’s most powerful compositions: “Here is no place for ‘beauty’. In order to rise to the expressive power of this music the interpretation has to go to the extremes.” The 1952 Sonata, meanwhile, “gains quality and depth with each repeated playing (and listening). In the beginning the violin repeats a hammering phrase, - the stonemason working on a tombstone. This pulse prolongs itself through the whole piece, sometimes interrupted by irregular breaths and sighs – a lonesome soul walking through an endless Russian landscape. The music of Ustvolskaya is like a ritual, taking the listener into a unique and archaic world, where there is no place for comparisons or theoretical analysis.”
The present recording of Ustvolskaya’s music was made at Lugano’s Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera in March 2013, and produced by Manfred Eicher.
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (who made her ECM debut appearance earlier this year playing Tigran Mansurian’s “Romance” and “Double Concerto” on Quasi parlando, ECM 2323), was born in Chisinau, Moldova, and studied violin and composition in Vienna and Berne. In 2000 she won the International Henryk Szeryng Competition in Mexico. She has received awards for her complete recording of Beethoven's works for violin and orchestra, and the concertos of Bartók, Eötvös and Ligeti.
Italian-born Austrian musician Markus Hinterhäuser is well known in the central European concert scene as both pianist and festival director (Zeitfluss Festival, Wiener Festwochen, Salzburger Festspiele). He studied at the Vienna Conservatory and the Mozarteum Salzburg with teachers including Elisabeth Leonskaja and Oleg Maisenberg, and has specialized in new music throughout his playing career, collaborating in chamber music performances with the Arditti Quartet, and gaining a reputation for his insightful performances of Cage, Scelsi, Feldman and more. He first recorded music of Galina Ustvolskaya in 1998 for the Col Legno label. The present disc is his first appearance on ECM.
Swiss clarinettist Reto Bieri’s solo ECM debut Contrechant (ECM 2209) recorded in 2010 and featuring music of Berio, Holliger, Carter, Scarrino, Eötvös and Vajda received wide critical acclaim. “This collection of contemporary solo works reveals him as a wonderfully controlled and subtle interpreter”, The Guardian noted, a finding echoed around the world. Reto Bieri studied the clarinet with François Benda in Basel, and at the Juilliard School in New York with Charles Neidich. His subsequent musical development was also strongly influenced by lessons with György Kurtág and Krystian Zimerman. In 2001 he won the UNESCO-sponsored International Rostrum for Young Performers award. Musical partners have included cellist Sol Gabetta, pianists Mihaela Ursuleasa, Riccardo Bovino and Henri Sigfridsson, the Quatuor Casals and the Tecchler Trio. He also plays chamber music with Gidon Kremer, Heinz Holliger, Jacques Zoon, Dénes Várjon, Gautier Capuçon, Raphael Oleg, Carolin Widmann, Gérard Wyss, Peter Sadlo, and others. Reto Bieri is currently artistic director of the Davos Festival.
CD booklet includes session photos and liner notes by Jürg Stenzl (in German) and Paul Griffiths (in English).