Anatol Vieru (1926-1998)
Troubadisc TROCD01446

Romanian Radio Symphony Orchestra / Horia Andreescu (Exodus)
Romanian Radio Chamber Orchestra / Ludovic Bács (Memorial)
rec. 1995-99, Radio Romania.
1 Jan. 2015



The music of Romanian composer Anatol Vieru has owed much over the last three decades to the now defunct Olympia CD label. Those discs continue to enjoy a vigorous half-life on the secondhand market on ebay and Amazon. There were three of which I only ever had one: OCD 419 which, courtesy of Electrecord, carried radio tapes from 1979-92 of Joseph and His Brothers for eleven players and magnetic tape (1979), Symphony No. 3 Earthquake and Taragot (1991) for two soloists, orchestra and percussion. On the other two discs were symphonies Nos. 2 and 4 and the Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra.
Vieru was born in Iasi and attended Bucharest Conservatory (1946-51). There his teachers included Constantin Silvestri (conducting) and Paul Constantinescu (harmony); the latter's orchestral music also featured on three Olympia CDs (OCD402, 411, 415). After Bucharest there came studies with Khachaturian in Moscow. After being under the spell of folk music he gravitated towards serialism. Martin Anderson wrote that "The music which results - often using rapid foreground textures built over a basic underlying pulse - sounds both modern and ancient." There are four operas, seven symphonies (1967; 1973; 1978; 1982; 1984–5; 1989; 1992–3), eight string quartets, film scores, vocal music and much else.
This Troubadisc CD contains two late works. Memorial is dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust and was premiered in Israel in 1991. It is not overly emotional, repressed even. It spends its 17 minutes musing in a smoking Bergian wasteland. The hour-long Symphony No. 6 Exodus, dedicated to Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, is in four movements. The first is a Tangochaccona which is smooth, cleanly textured yet hesitant and fearful. It has a Shostakovich-like tread at the start and the air of a tragic epic march. Its tonal foundations reminded me of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 15. The twenty minute second movement bears the name of the whole symphony. It is cold, chastening, desolate and nocturnal. Horns bellow like whale-song at one point and the music rises to an aural vision of seemingly chaotic dissonance. In the third movement, San Antonio de la Florida, a song is intoned by the tuba but this has no lift in its step - no bounce. At 4.30 drums interrupt. Like the side-drum in Nielsen’s Symphony No. 5 this seems designed to halt or at least disrupt progress. After tinkling bells and an echo of klezmer there come shadows of something that sounds like Copland's outdoors music. The finale is entitled Pale Sun in which the trumpet sings in quiet confidence but by no means is joy unbounded. We have what amounts to a serenade to desolation and a step out towards the emotionally remote. Pale Sun indeed; there are no swaggering parades here and Vieru ends the work with a sense of uncertainty.
The useful notes are by Thomas Beimel and are in English, German and French.
Darkly accented and obsessed music but not an experience that will beckon to most listeners. Even fans of Pettersson's symphonies might find this tough. It's so unlike the many tonal works written over the last three decades that it intrigues. Expect laced-tight reserve rather than emotional fluency.

Rob Barnett