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CD Review: Elena Firsova
Celebration Concert Ram 2000

Various performers, including
Karine Georgian, cello
Owen Murray, accordion


Hymn to Spring
Frozen Time
La malinconia
The Night Demons
Vernal Equinox
Scent of Absence
Meditation in Japanese Garden
Before the Thunderstorm

total time: 79:18
released: 2000
review date: March 2002

label: Meladina Record

Review by Henry Doktorski:

Celebration Concert Ram 2000 is a live recording of portions of a concert at the Royal Academy of Music's Duke Hall (London) for Elena Firsova's 50th birthday. Naturally, the music performed (some three hours worth) was her own.

Firsova and her husband Dmitri Smirnov are important representatives of the ex-Soviet émigrés now living in the West. Both are now well-established composers in England. Elena Firsova was born in Leningrad on 21 March 1950 into a family of scientists. Her father was a distinguished atomic physicist. The family moved to Moscow in 1956.

Firsova made her first attempt at composition at the age of eleven. She studied at Music School 1963-66, Music College 1966-70, Moscow Conservatory 1970-75 where her teachers were Alexander Purimov (composition), Yuri Kholopov (analysis) and Nikolai Rakov (orchestration). She established contact of a crucial musical importance with a composer Edison Denisov and Philip Herschkowitz, the pupil of Anton von Webern. In August 1972 she married the composer Dmitri Smirnov and now they have two children, Philip and Alissa.

She has written about a hundred compositions in many different genres including operas, oratory, cantatas, orchestral works, concertos, chamber ensembles, solo works and so on. Naturally, readers of The Free-Reed Review are interested especially in the free-reed instruments, so I will concentrate on the one piece on the program which features accordion: Crucifixion.

Firsova wrote, "CRUCIFIXION Op.63 for Cello and Accordion (or Organ) was written in Spring 1993 for two remarkable performers, Karine Georgian and Elsbeth Moser. The outlines of sonata form can be seen in the structure of this one-movement concert work. The title has no direct religious meaning, but rather is connected with the feelings of the human being entering a hard period in his life."

When I first heard Crucifixion, I was reminded of another famous "crucifixion" piece by another famous Russian woman composer: In Croce for bayan and cello by Sofia Gubaidulina. Both are atonal works and both convey, by their dissonances, intense suffering of the human soul.

Firsova's Crucifixion features the cello as the lyrical solo instrument and, with few exceptions, relegates the accordion to an accompanying role. Nonetheless, it is an important work for accordionists, as the two instruments function together as a team, just as the voice and piano work together as a team in Schubert's Lieder. Naturally the cello takes the principle role in this piece as that instrument has a more dynamically expressive "voice" than the accordion, which admirably functions here as the sonic support for the plaintive cries of Karine Georgian's instrument.

Owen Murray, accordion professor at the Royal Academy of Music, plays his part in this duo expertly and deserves high commendation. I am pleased to recommend this CD for all lovers of contemporary classical music. In addition, free-reed lovers will be pleasantly surprised by Firsova's other works on the CD: for piano, string quartet, voice, flute, harp, etc. Most are less somber and some are even a bit jovial! (I found her string quartet La malinconia especially wonderful.)

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