DESYATNIKOV Sketches to Sunset. Russian Seasons
Leonid Desyatnikov is best known as a film composer and for his flamboyant and colourful arrangement of Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. Both elements are heard on this recording. Sketches to Sunset, for solo violin, piano and orchestra, is based on Desyatnikov’s soundtrack to the 1992 film Sunset, directed by Alexander Zeldovich. It partly explains the suite’s bite-size format, which consists of nine short pieces named after characters or scenes from the film. Desyatnikov skilfully rescues these musical cues from the cutting-room floor, reassembling them in such a way that each piece gradually reveals itself as part of a much larger musical jigsaw puzzle.
These puzzles are sometimes of a referential nature, such as the plaintive violin melody heard in ‘Absalom’s Song’, with its fleeting homage to Arvo Pärt’s Fratres. At other times the references are transformed into grotesque parodies, as heard in the mock tango ‘Death in Venice’, which quotes from the Adagietto of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Later in the suite, a tango in E minor looks ahead to Desyatnikov’s Piazzolla arrangement. Extreme collisions are heard throughout, from strait-laced pastiche (‘Lot’s Daughters’) to circus-music kitsch (‘Take Five and Seven’).
In contrast, Russian Seasons for violin, voice and strings takes its folk inspiration from Stravinsky, with each one of its 12 ‘songs’ drawing on Russian folk tunes. There’s altogether more bite and astringency to this performance than Gidon Kremer’s with soprano Julia Korpacheva and Kremerata Baltica. Violinist Roman Mints, excellent throughout, applies more elbow grease to the hurdy-gurdy-style imitations in ‘Easter Greeting Song’, while Yana Ivanilova’s direct, no-frills vocal is less operatically staged than Korpacheva’s.
A long line of Russian composers have juxtaposed high with low, poignancy with parody over the years, of course, from Shostakovich to Alexander Raskatov; but Desyatnikov’s evocative synthesis surely makes him one of its most gifted proponents.