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"Beguilingly Catching": Elena Firsova's Achmatova Setting in Berlin

The world premiere of Elena Firsova's "Requiem," Op. 100 on texts of Anna Achmatova on 6 September by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra in Berlin (we reported on it) called forth enthusiastic reactions from the public and press. Ulrich Ameling wrote the following in the Tagesspiegel on 8 September 2003:

"No, don't creep under foreign skies / nor look for sleep under foreign wings. / In those days I remained amongst my own, / there where my people met their misfortune." Anna Achmatova is tortured by the Stalin regime, her men and her son abducted; the poetess herself spends long months in the penitentiaries of Leningrad. There she reads the sadness from blue lips, collects the ever-present whispering in order to give the abducted ones their faces back through poetry. For decades, Achmatova worked on her poetical cycle "Requiem," which immerses thousand-fold cries in clear verse. The composer Elena Firsova, born in Leningrad in 1950, has assembled them anew for orchestra, choir and soprano - and the Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin provided the world premiere in the Konzerthaus under Vassily Sinaiski.

Firsova's "Requiem" is permeated with respect towards her literary text, which is far more than that. It is the attempt to preserve the breath of those who have been extinguished. Bold musical constructions are thus virtually out of the question. The voice of the victims must be preserved, and Firsova succeeds in creating beguilingly catching vocal parts, especially the one for the weightless intoning Claudia Barainsky. The orchestral effects are made in an impressive way, the choir rustle like autumn leaves (the Radio Choir Berlin has a full tone)."

Jan Brachmann commented as follows in the Berliner Zeitung on 6 September 2003:

"Firsova's music lives in large-scale relationships: the medieval Dies Irae sequence from the Catholic mass of the dead turns up in the Requiem just as do the many echoes of the symphonies of Shostakovich. The collective symphonic experience indeed legitimises the turning back to an already historically closed repertoire of musical expression. Firsova's Requiem thus poses the basic question as to whether the new in "New Music" did not lose its legitimacy in relation to the old in precisely that moment where the historical philosophy upon which this idea is based changed into political terror. Firsova's Requiem sounded still, tender, almost elegant, and where the clouds passed by in A-flat major (in the 8th movement), Gabriel Faur seemed to look down from them. The soprano Claudia Barainsky and the Radio Choir Berlin sang with silver-tinged beauty, even if their Russian remained rather tamely articulated."