A Celebration of Ukrainian Classical Music at a Pivotal Moment in History

by delarue

In wartime, extremes always prevail in the public imagination. The fact is that the people of Ukraine had absolutely nothing to do with Vladimir Zelensky’s reckless provocation of the bellicose dictator next door, or the proliferation of American-built germ warfare labs which the Russians claim to have bombed into the stone age. Russian propaganda is no more trustworthy than MSNBC, so we don’t know if or to what degree their claim is true. At this moment in history, it seems like basic common sense to advocate for a rapid end to hostilities, not only for the sake of Ukraine’s diverse populations, but for all of us, considering what great musical contributions the country has given the world over the centuries.

One Ukrainian musician who’s given us great beauty lately is violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv. Her latest album Poems and Rhapsodies with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine under Volodymyr Sirenko is streaming at Spotify. It’s a mix of standard repertoire along with some fascinating rarities from her home turf.

She joins forces with cellist Sophie Shao in a lush, rapturous, tersely lyrical take of Saint-Saëns’ La muse et le poète to open the record. Ivakhiv’s elegant, downwardly stairstepping interlude draws sober reflection from Shao and pillowy ambience from the orchestra. From there Ivakhiv parses the dreamy atmosphere with a spun-steel precision, Shao holding down her role as brooding foil.

The drifting, enveloping ambience continues with Chausson’s Poème symphonique, Ivakhiv cutting through acerbically in this showcase for both her lower register and dynamics, Sirenko deftly exercising restraint until the magnificently determined peak before the end.

The centerpiece is a nimbly evocative take of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Sirenko opts for mystery and dancing precision as Ivakhiv mines the subtly enigmatic corners of the piece: this is a remarkably restless interpretation. Them again, that perception might be colored by having listened to the composer’s harrowing Symphony No. 6 on loop for much of last year: it’s no less relevant now.

The first of the rarities here is Anatol Kos-Anatolsky’s Poem for Violin and Orchestra in D Minor, a moody, captivatingly Romantic kaleidoscope of Carpathian-tinged violin riffage, with moments of blustery brass and persistently wary lustre. It ought to be better known: Ivakhiv deserves props for unearthing it.

Kenneth Fuchs‘ American Rhapsody (Romance for Violin and Orchestra), a Robert Motherwell-inspired tone poem, has panoramic sweep and interweave between orchestral voices and Ivakhiv’s alternately stark and soaring lines. The ensemble close the album with another Ukrainian gem, Myroslav Skoryk’s Carpathian Rhapsody, making Bach and then phantasmagorical hi-de-ho jazz out of an ancient-sounding chromatic folk theme, All this underscores the need to preserve the culture that incubated this music