The title of ECM's release of works by three composers born in the former Soviet Union perfectly captures the mood of the CD -- it is truly mysterious. Although more than half a century separates the first of these pieces from the most recent, they share a sense of otherness that defies easy explanation. The pieces are not so much mysterious in the sense of being eerie (although there are several moments that might raise the hairs on the back of your neck if you were listening alone in the dark); they are unsettling because they raise more questions than they answer.
Silvestrov's "Post Scriptum" is disturbingly enigmatic. You may find yourself scratching your head at the juxtapositions (and simultaneities) of disparate idioms -- Mozartian classicism, new age repetitions and progressions, aleatory elements, and modernist gestures -- but the ultimate effectiveness and emotional directness of the piece are undeniable. On any rational level, there is no reason why the piece should succeed, but it works beautifully. The composer's Misterioso is a tour de force, although a quiet one, for a performer who is required to play both the clarinet and piano virtuosically, simultaneously.
Arvo Pärt's "Spiegel im Spiegel" receives its first recording here in a version for clarinet and piano. As with so much of Pärt's work, the listener is left amazed at how the composer produces music that is devoid of cliché and beautiful, using only the simplest elements of harmony and melody.
Galina Ustvolskaya was a student of Shostakovich's. Her "Trio for clarinet, violin and piano" and her "Sonata for violin and piano" would be difficult to identify as the work of a composer trained at the height of Soviet control over its artists. Both works demonstrate more than a casual commitment to modernism, not so much in their harmonic language as in the extremely eccentric syntax of some of the movements. She is a composer who should be better known in the West -- these quirky and attractive pieces deserve a place in the repertoire of contemporary chamber music.
The music is given committed performances by pianist Aleksei Lubimov, violinist Alexander Trostiansky, and clarinetist (and pianist) Kyrill Rybakov. ECM's recording quality is excellent -- its clarity gives you the feeling of sharing an intimate space with the performers and that's ideal for this music.