1. Svarog Rituel, Ritual I 9:45
2. Incarnation dans la Lumière (Incarnation in the Light),
Ritual II 9:02
“Un pan de ciel au milieu du silence…” (A Piece of Sky Amid the Silence) after the paintings of René Magritte
3. L’Empire des lumières
(The Empire of Light) 7:20
4. Le Domain enchanté
(The Enchanted Domain) 7:03
5. La Voix des airs
(The Voice of the Winds) 9:03
6. Partita I 14:27
The Empire of Light
Labor Records is proud to announce the reissue of the premiere recording of
Gheorghi Arnaoudov, one of the most prodigious composers to emerge from Eastern Europe. Featured on this recording are Arnaoudov's complete works for piano played by pianist Angela Tosheva, a major new talent from Sofia, Bulgaria.
Gheorghi Arnaoudov speaks a musical language that combines the traditions of European modernism - Western and Eastern - with spiritualism and esthetic mysticism that comes from Eastern traditions but also takes an intensely personal form.
His use of the piano is as different from the romantic and earlier modernist usage as the modern piano is from its predecessors. He tranforms the instrument into a giant sounding board, a resonator for ascending vibrations and overtones. In some ways, the core of this music is in the long resonances of the clangorous sounds as they pile up and accumulate, filling the silences in the same way that smoke from a ritual fire fills the air.
Arnaoudov's antecedents can be found in the Russian Scriabin, the French mystic/modernist Messiaen, the Franco-American Varèse and, more recently, the work of the Pole Penderecki and Estonian Arvo Pärt. The influence of composers like Webern and Morton Feldman can perhaps also be felt in the lack of any kind of conventional process or development. This is music of stasis, a kind of intense minimalism that tells no conventional stories but rather meditates on an idea.
Gheoghi Arnaoudov was born in 1957 in Sofia, Bulgaria, into a musical family. He graduated from the Pancho Vladigerov Academy, continued his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, Italy, with Brian Ferneyhough and worked in the fields of concrete and electronic music. He has written for orchestra (two symphonies, two concertos for orchestra, a piano concerto, several works for voice and orchestra), for dance and musical theater, for choir, for chamber ensemble, and for various solo instruments, the piano in particular.
Elsewhere in this issue I discuss the common fallacy of mistaking the technique used to create art for the art itself. On most of the music groups on the Internet, as well as in the pages of most publications devoted to music, one will often encounter someone who describes the music of the 20th century as a colossal washout, generally ascribing its failure to Schoenberg and his successors. The recording under review poses an interesting conundrum for such a view as the Bulgarian Gheorghi Arnaoudov (b. 1957) could accurately be described as a postserialist but the sound of his music, which is the thing after all, has nothing in common with serial composition. The present release, which comprises his complete piano music, is apparently his debut on CD. I should say straight out that I love the music on this CD and will undoubtedly become tiresome to my friends and family in my insistence that they MUST listen to this music. Describing what this music is like is more problematic.
The promotional materials emphasize Arnaoudov’s minimalist credentials and urge that route as a means of promotion. Eric Salzman, whose writings on new music I have enjoyed for twenty-five years, stresses the mystical aspect of Arnaoudov’s art in his informative and entertaining liner notes, likening the music as filling the silence like the smoke from a ritual fire fills the air. The result is to seemingly forge a bond with the Eastern Europeans Pärt and Górecki. Then there is that serialist connection I mentioned earlier. With due respect to Salzman and the wizards of promotion at the record company, I hear the music as emerging out of Messiaen and Scelsi. Throughout, the glorious, reverberant piano sound reinforces this notion and perhaps offers another route to Arnaoudov’s music for listeners.
Bell sounds permeate the music. The two Rituals and the three pieces that make up Un pan de ciel au milieu du silence… (A piece of sky amid the silence after paintings by Magritte dating from 1991, 1992, and 1991-1994, respectively, represent five ways of doing essentially the same thing. All five pieces refer to light in their titles (the second of the Un pan…pieces is the title track, The Empire of Light). The music begins on a single tone, usually a D, either soft or loud, and then builds to include all twelve notes of the scale. Eventually the music dies back to the single tone, usually marked ppppp, before it returns to silence. Vestiges of serial conceptions remain. The twelve tones don’t all appear before a repetition but once they do, they always appear in the same order. There is no transposition of the row although tones are combined with one another as well as shifted in register so both the harmony and melody are constantly shifting. Throughout, he uses the reverberating overtones as ornamentation to the basic notes, building great structures of what Stockhausen, in his piano music, has referred to as colored silences.
The tendency to build his rows in thirds and fifth means that there is always a sense of sonorous chords, as opposed to clusters, in the music. There is a definite sense of “from the heart to the heart” about this music and, while I am in no way qualified to address the specific spiritual qualities involved, the sense of something larger going on is present here as much as it is in Bruckner.
Having said all that it is something of a shock to reach the last piece on the program, the early Partita I from1983, which is described by Salzman as being actually serial, and discover virtually all of Arnaoudov’s current obsessions present in his try at a neo-Classical suite. Of the five movements (Prelude, Recitative, Aria, Toccata, and Fugue) only the last bears any resemblance to more conventional music.
Without scores one has to accept the accuracy of the performances on faith. The piano is a gorgeous instrument and, as recorded in Sofia’s Salle Bulgaria, Angela Tosheva’s tone is something to behold. Urgently recommended.
– John Story, Fanfare
In his program notes for this intriguing disc of new piano music, Eric Salzman draws up a laundry list of influences on Gheorghi Arnaoudov that includes Scriabin, Messiaen, Varèse, Penderecki, and Pärt. Webern and Feldman are thrown in for good measure. And remarkably, an astute listener really can hear bits and pieces of these diverse artistic directions. It strikes me that a common stream in the works of these highly distinctive composers is a fascination with extremism. Scriabin was emotionally extreme. Messiaen, Varèse, and Penderecki all explored dynamic extremism (although certainly not exclusively). Pärt, Webern, and Feldman were/are structural extremeists, in their individual ways, in the use of sublimely simple forms to achieve potent expressiveness.
The tendency relates to the romantic impulse inherent in the music of all these men, and it is present in copious measure in the music of Arnaoudov. Note the use of the word “silence” and “light” in the titles of these pieces. In sections, especially the opening of “Ritual I,” Arnaoudov asks the pianist to approach the very limit of audibility (pace Feldman). The quality of light, that is, brightness, is achieved in brilliant, polytonal clusters of chords, usually at the climaxes of extended crescendos (pace Messiaen).
This is consistently dynamic music, calling for considerable muscle and coloristic abilities from the performer, and Angela Tosheva, who, like the composer, hails from Sofia, Bulgaria, delivers in spades.
As unconventional as this music is, it is easy to approach, as the composer speaks in broad, basic swaths of sound. For some, this music will sond noisy, but others will respond to a genuine sense of excitement and passion.
– Peter Burwasser, Fanfare
5.0 out of 5 stars
superb pianistic mysticism
I can only compare it possibly to Ustvolskaya, thus it defies description.
Very sparse, at times emotionally intense with lots of sustain pedaling.
Not attached to any particular school. Highly recommended, one of the best piano albums I've heard in a while...
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