Review on Nimbus
Piano Concerto Silentium (2001)
Violin Concerto Angel’s Day
Eleonora Bekova (piano)
Karelia State Symphony Orchestra/Marius Stravinsky
Elvira Bekova (violin)
Moscow State Symphony Orchestra/Konstantin Krimets
CAMEO CLASSICS CC9047CD
It must be a fantastic
feeling for a musician to have works written with them specifically in
mind which is the case here. Ukrainian composer Sergei Zhukov explores
the relationship between sound and silence in his Piano Concerto and
seems to set it in a void with 20 seconds of silence ‘recorded’ before
any sounds emerge. It is often the case that the space between the notes
is as important as the notes themselves if the notes are to have the
impact the composer intended. That is obviously of paramount importance
here which is why Zhukov had pianist Eleonora Bekova in mind when he
wrote the concerto. He says of her: she can “simultaneously express
sound and silence” while Martha Argerich has written that “She balances
emotion, intellect, and style beautifully and her touch can transform
the piano into an instrument that sings like a human voice.”
The first of the Piano Concerto’s five movements certainly creates a
feeling of floating in space in a blackness surrounded by twinkling
stars. The second begins with a dialogue between piano and marimba and
things become ‘busier’ as a series of explosions occur to interrupt the
relative silence and the orchestra becomes disturbed and anxious. The
third section expresses silence as the booklet notes describe it “as an
embodiment of a celestial beauty”. This is quite a feat considering that
it uses piano and orchestra to do so and calls for the soloist to play
exceedingly slowly. Part four opens with a much more aggressive sounding
piano. This consists of patterns of repeated notes that are quite
affecting and develops the ideas expressed in part two, namely the
explosive aspect characterised by abrupt and violent sounds from both
soloist and orchestra. It is the most disturbed of all the sections
though with plenty of excitement to compensate. The final part called
Post Scriptum in the notes returns to the gentle state with which the
work began. As she plays, Eleonora Bekova speaks the words of the poem
that inspired the work, Osip Mandelstam’s Silentium. She does this in
beautifully enunciated Russian which creates its own music as the work
fades into the void once more.
Zhukov has written three works for the Bekova sisters and the third one,
for cellist Alfia Bekova, Gethsemanian Night, for electric cello, mixed
chorus, six horns, trio percussions and prepared piano is due to be
recorded soon. The violin concerto written for Elvira Bekova and
entitled Angel’s Day is an extraordinarily affecting work of exceptional
lyrical beauty. Compositions such as the two here take some concentrated
listening before they reveal themselves completely but once achieved
they are quite compelling. There is a shared theme between these two
concertos since they both involve, as the booklet notes observe, “...
the infinite space between heaven and earth”.
Cast in four sections standing for morning, noon, evening and night, the
violin concerto opens with Morning Touch the effect of which is
gorgeously rich. As the liner note points out, “The solo violin,
stratospherically high, represents the gentle singing of the angels.”
The second section, Messenger, is deliciously and refreshingly light but
quite fast with the violin creating the impression of flight at times.
This it does in almost fairy-like flourishes recalling as the notes
observe Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream “... until 12
sacramental chimes remind us that it is noon by the celestial angel’s
clock.” Vespers, the third section, is the concerto’s slow movement
which opens mysteriously although it seems that this section represents
the earth with the angel present at a church service “singing of earthly
sorrow.” The music brought to mind that of John Tavener, Górecki and
Pärt with their religiously inspired beauty. The final section Night
Flight is a spirited scherzo which includes a quotation from
Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht to underline its nocturnal connections. It
“is essentially optimistic, an attempt to reconcile opposites and to
bring about the harmonisation of man with the cosmos.” While all this
might seem extremely weighty as a theme it is a wonderfully evocative
picture of the subject. The end comes with a whisper.
The Bekova sisters are amazing representatives of their Kazakh heritage
and have made many recordings as a trio. It is a pleasure to hear these
solo excursions. It comes as no surprise that Zhukov should have
composed his works with Eleonora and Elvira specifically in mind. They
are exceptionally talented as the two concertos here prove beyond doubt.
They treat the subject matter with due reverence delivering utterly
convincing performances of these two extraordinary works.
It is also refreshing to hear a less well known orchestra in the Piano
Concerto with the Karelia State Symphony Orchestra meeting the
challenges perfectly. The Moscow State Symphony Orchestra in the Violin
Concerto are as good as one would expect from such a world class
ensemble. This is a rare disc that deserves to be heard. It shows Zhukov
as a name to look out for even though he has been musically active for
well over thirty years. It makes me wonder why I have not heard of him
Composer Meets Tragically Hip Sisters From Kazakhstan. Mad Cap Antics
Concerto Mystery and Concerto Grosso
The Bekova Sisters
Residentie Orchestra The Hague under George Pehlivanian
Chandos CHAN 9588
Ok, I hate to
always be the guy who’s on about something he loves and thinks everyone
else should love, especially when the word “like” might be more
appropriate. But I can’t spend the rest of my life throwing darts at
Karajan and complaining about “crossover” and just generally running
around buying discs I know will suck only so I can write about how bad
they are. So I’m going to recommend something to you. Something new and
edgy and so unpopular that it’s already out of print.
So, have you ever heard of the Bekova sisters? They’re sort of
Kazakhstan’s version of the Barenboim, DuPre, Perlman troika. A little
gimmicky perhaps, but of course gimmicks are the bread and butter of
record company marketing departments. And what record company should be
ashamed to sell their own products? Chandos certainly isn’t and if the
curiosity of the record-buying public is peaked by the story of three
competent musicians from a former Soviet republic who sound nice and
look good in evening wear, then so be it.
So imagine you’re a hip trio with a phat recording contract and you’re
getting a little tired of performing Beethoven’s Triple Concerto and
that your audience is getting a little tired of same and that you wan’t
something new that no one has ever heard, something to revitalize your
concert program, something to wow the critics, something to put the
spring back in your collective step. Well, don’t ask me how they hit on
the idea of Sergey Zhukov, but they did. In fact, they hit on him twice.
They commissioned him to compose a contemporary response to Beethoven
and then to follow in the steps of other contemporary composers (Bloch
and Schnittke come readily to mind) with a modern take on the
traditional concerto grosso.
Zhukov gives us two worthy additions to the canon of the new consonance,
although just how well the term “new consonance” applies is up to the
individual listener. I’ll start, by way of example, with the
The first movement is a beautiful - a very thoughtful comment on
Beethoven with his thematic material woven deftly into a late 20th
century fabric. It reminds us just how important the past is to the
present, and hence, to the future. People like Schonberg who break so
angrily with all that came before lead their audience out on to a limb.
The limb may offer a unique view, but the position is precarious at
best. I suspect that the composer who offers us an evolution instead of
a revolution is more likely to find a way forward - a way on which we
can all join him. So kudos to Zhukov for the first movement. The
following allegro is an equally moving, though much more anxious and
less Beethovenian, statement. It’s filled with apprehension and even a
little dread, and is resolved in a spectacular and very satisfying way.
The third movement, which is an extended triple cadenza, is where it all
comes off the tracks with what seems like a lot of aimless wandering,
structurally and tonally, and I suppose that is what cadenzas are
supposed to do. Just maybe not for thirteen minutes. Over-indulgent?
Yeah, a little. But you suffer through thinking that things will get
back on track with the finale. And they pretty much do. If you’re
patient. And diligent. And willing. This is less immediately accessible
than the first and second movements, but there is some coherent
structure, some tonality and some emotional payoff. All in all, it’s
really the kind of music that I’m glad somebody somewhere is willing to
write these days. I have this very over-simplified view of things where
I imagine that if the Second Viennese Boys could hear this piece, they
might say, “Oh,yeah. I guess that would have been a much better way to
go.” Probably not, but I’d like to think so.
Zhukov’s second go with the Bekovas, the
Concerto Grosso, is a
similar but ultimately different animal. Perhaps it’s the lack of
program, or perhaps it’s the confines of the baroque form, but this
piece seems, if a little more musical, maybe a little less emotionally
engaging. It’s certainly more compact than the Concerto Mystery. Three
movements instead of four, and 20 minutes instead of 45. The musical
thinking seems to wander less, to be more to-the-point, and that’s
because it has to be. No broad, sweeping canvas here, just fairly brief
and matter-of-fact development. I especially like the content, form and
message of the final movement. Like the Beethoven embellishment of the
previous work, here he draws upon a traditional musical statement and
turns it into something thoroughly modern and relevant. A little sad and
despondent (the Russian in him coming out?), but very worthwhile and
very listenable. I wouldn’t care to make any comprehensive statements
suggesting that if you want to hear where classical music is going these
days then you must listen to Zhukov, but... I certainly wouldn’t mind if
this was where it was going.
All in all, I can’t see how Zhukov offers us any less than Pendercki or
Rautavaara or Gorecki, and yet he is performed virtually not at all and
recorded even less. Nothing of his is currently in print and that is a
shame. Nevertheless, if you’d like to try out this cd you can find it in
the bins at berkshirerecordoutlet. That’s dot com for the uninitiated. A
mere $4.99 and a bargain at twice the price.
Matty J Hifi
Classical Rough And
08 February 2010
Review on Cameo
Until now the
wider musical world has been familiar with the music of Sergei Zhukov
through a Chandos CD (CHAN 9588) which was issued in 1998 as part of
their thenNew Directionseries. The disc contains the
Concerto Mystery[45:24] and
the Concerto Grosso /Concerto
Sacra/[20:41]. The Residentie Orchestra,
The Hague, then extensively used by Chandos, was conducted by George
Pehlivanian. You can still track down copies. It may well be that the
present Cameo Classics disc will re-ignite sales of that Chandos disc.
The other link between that disc and this is the three Bekova sisters
who feature in the Concerto Grosso
Sacra/. Again they were a repeated presence
in Chandos releases of the late 1990s to mid 2000s.
The Bekova or Nakibekova sisters are Eleonora (piano), Elvira (violin)
and Alfia (cello). They are well known for their advanced concert
programming but greater familiarity attaches to their Chandos CDs of
Martinů piano solos and trios not to mention their Franck and
Rachmaninov. There’s also a coolly received Claudio disc. Zhukov has
written a concerto for each of the sisters. Here we have the ones for
violin and piano. The cello one is to follow - I hope.
What of Zhukov and the music? He has a fairly thorough English language
website which is well worth a look. He was born in the Ukraine and
studied music locally before moving to the Moscow Conservatory and
graduating in 1978. There are six ballets and more than handful of
concertos along side plenty of chamber and
vocal music. There are also three symphonies,
dating from 1985, 2009 and 2012.
TV and movie music jostles with a musical (Life of insects, or Deceit
and Love) staged in Moscow in 2010 and an oratorio
Moments running in succession.
Going by this Cameo disc his music can be both lyrical and strangely
avant-garde in a 1960s sense. The two aspects are made to mediate in a
most natural and fluent way. There’s something of the ritual and the
arcane about these two concertos. Ancient
Sorceriesis the title of one of Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence
stories. That title could equally well have been applied to these two
large-scale works except that the pagan, while not absent, makes way for
Christian mysteries in the Violin Concerto /Angel's
is in five movements which are contemplative and manic-panic by
turns. Impressions come and go: Stravinsky’s
Firebirdin sinister mode, John Tavener, Scriabin, Bridge’s
Oration, Griffes’Pleasure Dome, Ives’Unanswered Questionand Ireland’s
Forgotten Riteand Legend- all of this
given a dissonant skew among the New Age devotions. The atmosphere
created is potent with strands of incense trailed by a slowly swinging
thurible contrasted with the insistent machine-gun rhythmic tattoo of
the piano (II: 3.44). In III there’s the glint and shimmer of the
tam-tam and some mercilessly jazzy piano syncopation in IV. The soloist
intones Mandelstam’s poem ‘Silentium’ in the finale while the guitar
adds plangency and colour to the orchestra’s dripping opalescent notes.
Something rich and strange indeed, although more pedestrian souls might
regard it as hocus-pocus.
The oneiric theme is continued with the Violin Concerto
Day/ which is in four movements. The
character of the music is incantatory but not static. We are in strange
realms but ones where the ideas often seem to reference Russian
nationalism of the late 19thcentury. In
Morning Touch(I) the violin speaks as a high, thin wail, trembling and
distant.Messenger(II) is full of hyper-tense excitement which is, in
character, part Midsummer Nights Dreamand part
chattering freshness from Rachmaninov’sThe Bells. InVespersplangent
single rain-drop notes splash down gently. The finale -Nightflight-
links to the archingly sanguine melody of Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony
and the faery mystery of the same composer’s First Violin Concerto -
wonderful fluttering violin at 8:07. Along the way we meet, at
5:35-7:07, a playful Nutcrackerf
light before the music ascends to the stratosphere amid celesta
sparkling and the shimmer of silver chains.
Something out of the ordinary rut. Surreal music that holds the listener.
Short review on CD
Zhukov had in his mind not only Eleonora Bekova’s skills as a soloist
but also her psychological profile. ‘Eleonora is able to be in deep
meditation at the same time as she is performing at the piano. She can
simultaneously express sound and silence’. The theme of the concerto is
that special relationship between sound and silence. ‘Silentium’ stems
from the 1910 poem by the Jewish poet, Osip Mandelstam. The Angel’s Day
Concerto was designed to fit the character of violinist Elvira Bekova,
using her remarkable capacity to perform exactly according to the
composer’s intention. It also reflects the theatrical style of the
composer. The concerto, in many ways eccentric, even carnival-like, also
has pure moments of lyricism. This reflects Zhukov’s portrait of both
the Angel and the performer. ‘Angel’s Day’ is presented in four parts,
recalling the classical symphony: morning, noon, evening and night.
Sergei Zhukov is an eclectic composer having produced a large catalogue
of chamber, choral, orchestral and theatrical works. He has placed
particular emphasis on the genre of the concerto. He has composed three
concertos for piano, violin and cello, which he dedicated to each of the
Khazak Nakipbekova sisters (The Bekova Trio). This series of concertos
earned him the award of ‘Composer of the Year’ made by Musical Review in
A keen sense of historical tradition, the guiding principle of Sergei
Zhukov's formative years, has shaped the range of his predilections and
choices, 'and helped him master the diverse tech¬niques of composition
during his studies at the Moscow Conservatoire from which he graduated
in 1978. Later he completed a postgraduate course there under Professor
Mikhail Chulaki. Since his days at the Conservatoire, Sergei Zhukov has
combined a quest for new images and expressive means with an urge to
comprehend and ex¬press his ties with the past.
Folklore is one a major themes of his music. Avoiding direct quotations
from his native Ukrainian folk songs, the com¬poser strives to ensure an
authentic impression and stylistic accuracy by rendering the flavour of
speech inflec¬tions and intonations. First he concen¬trates upon the
lyrics, looking for their musical equivalents in folk tunes, then
proceeds to the final stage, the recrea¬tion of the initial fusion of
sounds, words and movements. His cantata Spivanochki, based on the
earliest examples of Ukrainian folklore, is notable for its original
approach to the space-music relationship, with the first soprano and
grand piano placed on the stage, and the second soprano, violin,
clarinet and temple block in the auditorium. The space between them
reverberates with the music, its tempo, pauses and rests. The cantata's
form is open. It comes to an end at the performer's will, and its
clearly impro¬visatory character produces an impres¬sion of spontaneous
One of the main sources to which Sergei Zhukov turns for inspiration is
poetry. Although his interests cover a wide range, he feels a particular
affinity with poets, who were primari¬ly concerned with form. Sergei
Zhukov's early works, for example, the vocal instrumental cycle to
verses by Miezelaitis, were expressive of his predominantly "phonetic"
approach to poetry, and the treatment of words as channels for
additional musical nuances. The subsequent com¬positions, Dramatic
Triptych and Eight Musical Novellasbased on poetry of A. Tarkovsky,
among others, reveal his growing preoccupation with meaning.
Monologues to verses by Marina Tsve¬tayeva and the cycle Echo based on
Alexander Pushkin may be regarded as landmarks in the composer's work in
vocal instrumental form. The Tsvetayeva cycle brings out the rhythmical
and syntactical features of the poems. In the climax the compo¬ser gives
up melodic development altogether; the voice holds onto a single note
accentuating the caesuras while a sparing musical accompaniment
emphasizes the tragic meaning of the words. In the cycle to verses by
Alexander Pushkin the composer stresses the details which serve to build
up the visual image. Instrumental numbers provide a kind of commentary
ensuring a coherent development.
The Violin Concerto was Sergei Zhukov's first attempt at writing music
for orchestra. Then followed Sonata-Capriccio for solo cello and Partita
for solo violin. In the Partita the com¬poser employed a variety of
musical forms, such as cantus, chant and recitative, to provide vivid
characterizations, creating as a result a intonational instrumental
theatre/ The Sonata-Capriccio is noted I spontaneous collage which in
the form of a performer’s improvisation on themes from an improvisation
overheard am down by the composer. In the Symphony, his most significant
attainment so far, Sergei Zhukov has further¬ developed the ideas
explored earlier in his chamber instrumental opuses. For example, a
gradual transformation of initial intonations into dramatic timbres can'
be traced back to his Violin Partita. A strong dramatic quality inherent
in the Symphony also manifests itself in the pure timbres progressing
towards the superposition of several musical layers and the emergence in
the coda of a new colour when players on stringed instruments are to hum
their parts. The work has a clearcut structure. A continuous development
is based on a thematic complex which appears at the beginning chorales,
recitatives and other forms used as its elements.
The central section second movement, which forms what one might call the
architectonic axis of the cycle, is written in the classical tradition.
Yet this islet of classical tonality, form, harmony and intonation does
not appear as a collage. The material of this episode harmoniously
emerges ou of the preceding development in the course of which alien
element has been thoroughly assimilated and integrated. Sergei Zhukov
has embarked upon his individual path, let us listen to voice.
“Music in the USSR”,
FASCINATING WORK OF ZHUKOV
Foundation De Link
music of Edison Denisov and Serge Zhukov.
E. Denisov: 'Signs in white', performed by Paul
Hermsen - piano; Sonata for flute and guitar, performed by Ellen Opten -
flute and Frenk Casteleyn - guitar; Solo for vibraphone, performed by
Cobi Bol. S.
Zhukov: Sonata Cappricio, performed by Maike
Rademakers - cello; Monologues, performed by Mirjam Touber - soprano and
Frans van der Tak - piano; Partita, performed by Robert Szreder -
Thursday 28 April.
Of the approximately 2000 composers that live in the Soviet Union, one
was invited by Foundation De Link on Thursday night: Serge Zhukov. His
music, as well as music of one of his elder colleagues, Edison Denisov,
was subject to performance.
Denisov is a composer of the third generation. He is well-known, not
only in the Soviet Union. His style is complex. The works that were
performed during this evening, made use of serial techniques. His
musical language is international, which may explain why his three
compositions, in spite of strong performances, didn't really surprise.
It all sounded more or less familiar - an impression that got emphasised
because of the relative similarity of the three chosen compositions.
A much stronger impression was caused by the three compositions of the
younger Zhukov, who belongs to the second generation of Soviet
composers. Zhukov has mastered his profession at least as good as his
teacher. He knows how to create a strong and logical connection between
tradition (also the East-european musical tradition) and the
contemporary musical expression tools.
The clearest evidence of this was found in his Sonata Cappricio for
cello solo. But also the three Monologues for soprano and piano, as well
as the Partita for violin solo, confirmed the first impression and
achieved a clear fascination during this evening. Also because of
the excellent performances.
HENK DE GLAS
April 29, 1988 - HET NIEUWSBLAD
MOSCOW-PROJECT WITH TWO FACES
Well, it was quite a Sunday afternoon, in the Maastricht Music School.
More than two hours of contemporary music, interrupted by only 15
minutes of intermission, seems a little bit too much for even the most
hardened fan of this genre. Even when it's all about the products of two
leading Soviet composers, I still maintain this opinion. The program was
tributed to compositions of Edison Denisov and Serge Zhukov. Both work
in Moscow, they know each other well, but they have nothing in common
when it comes to composition style.
Denisov seems to follow the footprints of Schönberg and Webern more than
Zhukov, but apart from that, he seems to be fully converted to
'constructivism'. Some influences of older styles may be apparent in his
works, but it's the structure of the composition that needs to do the
job. For me, his music is somewhat pale, yet inventive, but nearly
independent of the so-called 'performance'. His 'Signs in white' were
nevertheless interesting. The same can more or less be said about a
Suite and a solo piece, although the perfomances didn't succeed to keep
my attention all the way to the end.
A completely different matter were the musical products of Zhukov. His
main characteristic is the large freedom that he apparently offers to
his performers. Zhukov - he's from a different generation than Denisov -
creates vivid music, that - in absolute liberty - seems to be bound to
the underlying structure. After listening to a composer such as Denisov,
it looks as if the young Zhukov is blowing a fresh wind through the
Soviet music of the recent years, a sort of Perestroyka. Nevertheless,
his music is based upon traditional forms, such as the sonata and the
partita, albeit in a sort of 'portrayed' way.
The performances of the Zhukov works were melodic, while we were
experiencing catching and compelling music, in many ways. So, there was
much to enjoy, even while the Monologues were a bit long.
The explanation on the program was insufficient, perhaps because Zhukov
had promised to visit the concert personally. But he was
conspicuous by his absence.
MUSICAL PATHS OF SERGEY ZHUKOV
(to his 50th birthday)
In October Moscow hosted a string of music events timed to the 50th
birthday of the well-known Russian composer Sergey Zhukov. One of
the concerts took place at the House Of Composers, another - at the
"Glas" Theatre Zhukov has been cooperating with for several years. A
disciple of Mikhail Chulaki, a professor at the Moscow Conservatory
and author of several wonderful ballets, he inherited his teacher's
love of the theatre. Now Zhukov himself teaches music at the
Conservatory and writes music to drama productions at the "Glas"
center. He wrote four ballets and lots of symphony and chamber works
in the so-called "instrumental theatre" manner - musicians move
around the stage, while playing, the performance being accompanied
by a recital of texts and quasi-improvised singing. These
"innovations" don't interfere with his serious music. As the
composer himself admits, before setting down to work, he needs to
dismiss all other thoughts, turn into a "clean sheet" and listen to
himself and the sounds that arise from the depth of his soul.
Russian culture navigator, 2001