Before glasnost, the Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006) was hardly known in the West, but from the 1990s her works have had a raised profile at new music festivals and recordings.
Excluding social-realist pieces like the cantata “Dawn of the homeland” and the symphonic poem “Young Pioneers” from the early 1950s, her oeuvre contains around 21 composition of a personal expressive nature. Among her most prominent works are the dark clarinet trio (cited by her teacher Shostakovich in his fifth string quartet) and octet, and six piano sonatas. She also wrote five symphonies.
She has been called ” The lady with the hammer” and you think, for example, of the hard striking tambourine in the octet and piano concert. The Hammer Effect can also occur in the clusters in the Piano Sonata No. 5 with an insensitive interpreter. They are to be performed with the left hand’s knuckles in a dynamic range from fff to fffff . But Natalia Andreeva gives them more spiritual than acoustical weight. She took the sound of the clock bells in St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral, close to Ustvolskaya’s home in St. Petersburg, as a reference point in both the 5 th and 6th Sonatas.
“The lady with the hammer” barely speaks at all at Andreeva. In the second piano sonata she instead portays Ustvolskaya in an environment of prayer and prophecy. It is understatement and melancholy that characterizes the interpretation. The Twelve Preludes from 1953 do not follow the ‘circle of fifths’, they are atonal small pieces in which from time to time rays of sun shine through. As with the Sonatas, the interpretation and playing is consistently insightful.