Artyomov is one of Russia’s greatest living composers. He writes music that’s galactically huge, by which we mean it gives the impression of space and endless time; the music of the spheres. The introduction of Sola Fide is only flute and piccolo (?), followed by strings, but within seconds he’s up there, floating in the vastness of space. This is clearly not just us; the sleeves all nod towards outer space.
It’s imposing in one way, with the feelings it evokes, but it’s not hard to listen to. We play it quite often, as it’s enervating and uplifting, a quick scrub to the brain with a pumice. True, he challenges the listener — Sola Fide’s second movement Separation has a slightly scary choral section — but he always backs away from being downright intimidating and by Revelation he’s surprisingly calm, given the title. Shock is unsettling, the film score for a spaceman whose tether snaps, and he frantically tries to grip onto his craft before ..
Star Wind (and other works) is slightly more grounded, in that it lacks something of the feel of eternity though it’s still a bit out there. The title track opens and it well represents a wind, leaves blowing around rapidly and stopping suddenly, violin and flute suggesting skittishness. “I meant not only the physical wind but rather inspirational while you are at night on the top of a mountain looking at the immense skyscape,” says the composer in the sleeve notes.
Moonlight Dreams is in four movements, and based on 7th century Chinese texts and demands “synchronous breathing” from the performers.
Bamboo Solitude’s text starts: “I sit alone in unfrequented grove / I pluck my lute and hum a song of love.” The other three pieces are Autumn Moon (“Fall moon bright, fall wind light / Rustling leaves disperse”), River Village (“My fishing done, the boat is left unmoored / The weary moon and village bring me sleep” and Quiet Night Thoughts (predictable: “I gaze awhile, then bow my head / Where thoughts race homeward bound.” A soprano adds atmosphere to these gentle pieces.
Elsewhere, Romantic Capriccio, for French horn, piano and string quartet was composed in 1976 and written in memory of Jean Sibelius. The sleeve notes the opening pages “have a character of extreme anger”, concentrating upon the relationship between horn and piano, followed by a more conciliatory stretch as the music warms. We’re not sure about the anger but it is forceful for Artyomov, and calming strings come in quite quickly; one of his more down to earth pieces.
In Spe (In Hope) is the hardest of these three and “broke new ground in Artyomov’s writing in its use of polydynamic, ever-changing textures while retaining his deep spirituality”.
It is a massive work, in one movement but 21 sections playing continuously. It is more unsettling but there are some moments of calm and beauty.
He’s worth listening to. Often melancholy in a Russian way, it also contains many moments of beauty.
These are all out on Divine Art, divineartrecords.com. Sola Fide is DDA 25164; Symphony In Spe / Latin Hymns DDA 25184, and Star Wind DDA 25176.