The Divine Art label has released two albums of orchestral works which each contain a significant and substantial symphony from Vyacheslav Artyomov one of the lesser known Soviet/Russian composers and a unique voice.

Born in Moscow 1940 Artyomov is one of a generation whose compositional career commenced during the time of the so-called ‘Khrushchev Thaw’ when the climate of state oppression and censorship in the Soviet Union became less draconian. Originally intending to become a physicist, Artyomov changed course by attending Moscow Conservatory and studying composition with Nikolai Sidelnikov and piano with Tovi Logovinsky. As one of Russia’s leading composers Artyomov has been the recipient of several prestigious commissions.

The second album contains two works, with the opening and most substantial work the Symphony: ‘Gentle Emanation’ taken from the Book of Job from the Russian Bible which is No. 3 of the cycle Symphonic Tetralogy titled ‘Symphony of the Way’. Composed in 1991 this is a three movement score with each movement inhabited by a contrasting character yet all representing, according to the composer, an aspect of “one soul in its inspiration to overcome challenges or obstacles in its inner drama and find a way to the light.” Mstislav Rostropovich premièred the work with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington and subsequently, in 2008, Artyomov decided to make extensive revisions to the score, which is the version played here. Opening with four spaced, extremely loud drum thwacks this is a remarkably powerful score that for its considerable length maintains a mood of inexorable mystery, of an almost ethereal luminosity contrasted with tension-filled episodes of menace and anger.

Next comes Tristia II, described as a fantasy for piano and orchestra, written in 1997 to commemorate the 60th birthday of Vladimir Ashkenazy. Artyomov revised the score in 2011. Integral in Tristia II is a spoken part in the first and last episodes with Mikhail Philippov here narrating the poem and prayer by Nikolai Gogol. Opening with densely woven strings, an atmospheric mood of nervous edgy and orchestral colour is soon created and maintained. The prominent piano chords used percussively not lyrically add to the anxious disposition. Narrator Mikhail Philippov’s vocal is deep and richly resonant. Unfortunately none of Gogol’s Russian text is provided in the booklet, only a single sentence explanation which is scant consolation for missing out on this aspect of the composer’s inspiration that he clearly felt was so important. The Russian National Orchestra excels under baton of Teodor Currentzis, giving a compelling performance that feels well-paced, producing wonderful orchestral textures. Pianist Philip Kopachevsky provides alert playing of real clarity.

Both albums were recorded at Mosfilm Sound Studio, Moscow with excellent sound, crystal clear and nicely balanced too. These two albums of works by Vyacheslav Artyomov, one of Russia’s unsung composers, make a substantial impression with his unique soundworld.

—Norbert Tischer