New Classics

Until recently, the music of Galina Ustvolskaya had been neglected in Russia and little heard in the West. Born in 1919, this reclusive St Petersburg composer’s personal vision and stubborn self-will excluded her from mainstream musical life in the USSR. Unrelelenting rhythms in many works brought her the nickname ‘The Lady with the Hammer’.

Quite apart from its individual integrity, her work is driven by a spiritual ideal which would have placed her in diametrical opposition to the Communist state. She was a pupil of Shostakovich but developed her own very particular style, of which she said, ‘There is no link whatsoever between my music and that of any other composer, living or dead.’ Shostakovich supported her in the Union of Soviet Composers and sometimes sent her his own as yet unfinished works, attaching great value to her opinions. He wrote to her, ‘It is not you who are influenced by me; rather, it is I who am influenced by you.’ Ustvolskaya was an enigma: a quiet, reserved and introspective individual who wrote powerful, massively constructed (yet short in length) music which astounded her audiences.

Since her death in 2006 her music has become highly regarded and she is almost a cult figure. Russian pianist Natalia Andreeva has studied Ustvolskaya’s music in great depth and while fully committed to the great mechanistic climaxes also brings out in these recordings the lyrical and melodic qualities which are always present, especially in the earlier works such as the picturesque Preludes. This double CD is an invaluable introduction to a composer who will be seen in hindsight as a pivotal figure in the development of twentieth century Soviet/Russian music.

—John Pitt