“One of the benefits that has come with the influx of Russian conductors in the West, especially in Britain, is the assortment of music they have brought with them, music that may have had some fame in Russia but has been unknown in the West. Consider the music of Vladimir Martynov, here championed by Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir. Martynov started out in the 1960s as a serialist and passed through phases of interest in electronic music, rock, and ethnic music from the Soviet republics before forming his own entirely distinctive take, often religious, on the minimalist influences coming from the Baltics and the U.S. Here, his is not the meditative minimalism of Arvo Pärt but a rather splashy kind with Romantic aspects including a prominent quotation from Schumann's Kinderszenen, Op. 15, jazzy interludes, handclaps, and an orientation toward exoticism (underlined by the specific Schumann quote, from Von fremden Ländern und Menschen). The original version of Utopia, from 2005, was commissioned by the Singaporean ambassador to Russia and was conceived as a Singaporean symphony, with a text from the Great Soviet Encyclopedia entry on that Southeast Asian city-state. Later, that was replaced by excerpts from the Tao te Ching, the source of the original text in the second of the work's two large sections, and here the entire text is translated into English. The album was recorded in 2019, making the line "Let people be respectful towards death and not leave their homes" strikingly prescient in 2020. The original text might actually be preferable, providing a juxtaposition of modern and granular with ancient and sacred, and no one else set the words of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. Nevertheless, the work is entirely diverting, and Jurowski does well not to tone down its more garish qualities, coaxing the London Philharmonic Choir away from an English cathedral sound and toward a big American feel. The work would be ideal for presentation by American orchestras, and this recording may help make that happen. Abbey Road Studios, here as so often after all these years, produces a fine acoustic, spacious but never muddy.”
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