Sergey Zhukov    



honored art worker of Russian Federation




Sergey Zhukov: Concerto Mystery

Sergey Zhukov was born in Zhitomir (Ukraine) in 1951. He graduated from the Moscow Conservatoire in composition in 1978, and completed his training as an assistant lecturer under Professor Mikhail Chulaki in 1980. Even in his student compositions, Zhukov drew the attention of his colleagues and the general public. For his Dramatic Triptych in memory of Vladimir Mayakovsky (1978), Zhukov was awarded the Union of Composers' special prize.

Success followed the composer in his later works as well. He took part regularly in all-Union, and all-Russian festivals of new music, international reviews such as the Charles Ives Festival of Contemporary Chamber Music and he appeared in concerts of his own music both in his homeland, and in Europe and the USA.

Sergey Zhukov's predilection for the instrumental concerto and dramatic vocal music such as song-cycles and oratorio possibly highlights the composer's attraction towards genres with a theatrical element. Even in his 'pure' chamber and instrumental music, this element, as well as the kindred elements of the visual and the graphic, are frequently present - for example the composition for a dancing clarinetist, ballerina and a recorded tape "Lot of Nemesida" (1992).

With his interest in the deep processes of our spiritual life, Zhukov has become fascinated by esoteric teachings about the ways in which humanity has acquired moral and emotional experience. One of the creative results of this fascination is the ballet Solaris. Another work is the Concerto Mystery for violin, cello, piano and orchestra.

The stimulus to write the Concerto Mystery came in the form of a commission from the Bekova Sisters. The performers wanted to fill out their repertoire with a work which could share a concert program with Beethoven's Triple Concerto, and which, being thematically linked to it, could be interpreted as the second part of a unique diptych. Zhukov reacted enthusiastically to this idea, since the technique of immersing a classical theme in a stylistically different context seemed to him to be analogous to the ritual of a mystery-play in which someone undergoes a series of trials in order to become spiritually stronger and to be resurrected to a new life. This accounts for the original forces required to play the work: besides the main (principale) trio of soloists, there is also an alternative trio {contra), whose players are seated at the edges and at the back of the platform. Setting the players against one another in this way symbolizes the coming together of the participants of the mystery-play with their doubles who personify the dark aspects of our nature. Victory over one's double, in effect, over oneself, over the negative aspects of one's own soul, is the chief purport of the action. At the same time, the composer stresses that, whilst taking this programmatic idea as his starting point in the overall plan, he wrote the work just as his spontaneous musical feelings dictated. This is 'pure' music which develops according to its own internal laws, and is not the illustration of a mystery-play.

Nevertheless, certain principal moments can be highlighted. Thus, in the first movement the exposition of the main positive idea takes place a theme by Beethoven in C major emerges out of the vague, sonoristic interweaving of strands. It is supplemented by a chorale theme, here radiant and celestial, on the celesta and vibraphone. Sudden dissonant aggression from the piano {contra) signifies the start of the struggle, and the woodwind lines form themselves in threatening layers - the composer describes this as a depiction of Death and Darkness. From the upper register, striding down in octaves, the solo instruments descend into the rumbling depths which the ear can barely discern - it is as though we were witnesses of the descent of heroes into some deep, hellish, and dark world where they await their next trials.

The second movement begins with a toccata-like motion on the cello. The chorale theme, now pathetic and heroic, makes its appearance three times, but three times it is interrupted by the chaotic sounds of Death and Darkness, and the soloists have to descend again to the lowest depths of the sound range.

The mournful recitatives of the soloists mark the beginning of the third movement. They are trying to break free from their sound 'manacles', but again and again the development is stuck on one persistently nagging note, D. The contra-soloists parody the soloists' replies in a key full of irony and caricature. In the end the piano manages to escape, breaking away from the gravitational pull of D and reaching A flat major, but the threatening chords of Death and Darkness again bar its path.

From the uncoordinated and timid sounds of the solo instruments, the contours of Beethoven's theme gradually take shape and ire restored in the finale; the theme blazes forth in a sequential ascent as the herald of victory (imitating the style of Liszt and Scriabin and clearly an allusion to the work of these composers who were deeply interested in the theme of the mystery-play). Following this, the very gradual, but steadfast welling of the register and dynamics in the orchestral sound squeezes the contra soloists to the upper extremes, to the physical limits of their ranges the contra-soloists are defeated, and joyfully and pathetically Beethoven's theme is proclaimed for the last time. The principale-soloists also break away at this ecstatic moment of culmination.

The sextet of soloists comes together in the very last bars like a quiet, ghostly echo: beyond the frontier of material existence humanity has been defeated by its shadow, and has found oneness with its opposite.


  Sergey Biryukov




Concerto Mystery

Concerto Mystery is an allegorical work, analogous to the medieval mystery plays, and it pits a fragment of Beethoven, in C major, the theme of our heroes, the soloists, against the forces of darkness, or chaos, in the form of parodistic imitation by a second trio of orchestral players, and richly symbolic Scriabinesque effects in the orchestra. When the action gets going, the forces of darkness are represented in fortissimo dissonance in the orchestra, and the work almost seems to suggest a struggle between the avant-garde and the forces of consonant harmony. In the end the music rises triumphantly to an apotheosis of which Scriabin himself would have been proud.  The Bekova Sisters, Residentie Orchestra The Hague; George Pehlivanian. Chandos 9588 (England)

 Annotation for booklet, 1998



Concerto Mystery

Sergey Zhukovs profound and powerful music is here revealed in the premiere recordings of two works for piano trio and orchestra.

Concerto Mystery was commissioned by The Bekova Sisters, the performers requiring a work which could share a programme with Beethovens Triple Concerto. Immediately after this, and again at the Bekovas request, he wrote his Concerto Sacra /Concerto Grossofor a trio of soloists and orchestra, employing material from his own Partita for unaccompanied violin.

The concept of the mystery-play accounts for the original forces required to play Concerto Mystery: besides the main (principale) trio of soloists, there is an alternative (contra) trio whose players are seated at the edges and at the back of the platform. This plan physically suggests the coming together within the mystery-play of the participants with their doubles, the latter reflecting the dark aspects of each individuals nature.

The chief purport of the action is the victory over the negative aspects of ones soul. Whilst the composer stresses that this ispure music which develops according to its own internal laws, one can detect certain points of significance: the appearance of a theme by Beethoven in C major early on, the octave descent of the solo instruments into the dark, rumbling orchestral depths, the recurrent interuption of an important chorale theme by the chaotic sounds of Death and Darkness and, finally, the breaking away from the principale solo instruments at the ecstatic climax to the work, as the contra soloists are literally forced out of their respective registers.

In Concerto Grosso, the initials of the soloists (E, A and B) acquire musical significance. Here, there is no unified trio of soloists but, rather, a piano and string duet which are set in opposition to one another.


from Review, 1998



Concerto Mystery

Picked this up in a remaindered bin some years ago and I'm still playing it regularly and still enjoying it. The Concerto Mystery is the standout piece (worth the purchase of the disc alone). It was composed to be added to a program that also included Beethoven's triple concerto.

Considering the other two reviews, I'd say all you need is a pair of ears to enjoy this. It doesn't matter where you were born. To provide something to hang onto, bits of it certainly reminded me of modern Russian and Bartok-derived Eastern composers, but I was also put in mind of John Adams' Grand Pianola Music and some moments of Colin Matthews' and Lepo Sumera. There are references to the musical past but they are handled with far greater subtlety than one gets with Schnittke and without much of the acid bitterness or irony. The Bekova sisters play beautifully throughout, and the composer gave them plenty to work with. It's very much a late 20th Century work, with plenty of that melancholy one finds in the Northern European composers of the 1990s. The music is actually quite beautiful and I'm sure Zhukov and the Bekova Sisters (and Chandos) were surprised this release didn't make more of a splash.

In a few years I might bump this up to five stars. I was impressed on the first listen but didn't expect it to wear well--it seemed showy. Six or seven years later I'm still finding this disc interesting; there's far more depth than I'd initially detected.


By Wayne A.


October 2, 2010