5th Symphony "Ushba" (1986)

This monumental two-part symphonic canvas belongs to the later era of the composer’s artistic activities. If under the name of “Ushba” – one of the most spectacular peaks of mountainous Svanetia – the composer had created a symphonic scene or poem, such work of art could have been easily regarded as a masterpiece of programme tone-painting symphonism, by its artistic value comparable maybe only with tone-painting symphonism of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. But in this particular case we do not talk specifically about the skill of Alexi Matchavaraini as a magician of “alpine tone-painting” and not about obvious programme character of musical compositions, stipulated by the name “Ushba” itself. Undoubtedly, unique beauty of this region of the composer’s native Georgia inspired him and found its artistic embodiment in the 5th symphony as a purely philosophical category, inciting in the vehement creative nature of A. Matchavariani, as an artist and a human being, an irresistible impulse for musical self-expression.

It was the Georgian nature itself, delighting and inspiring such prominent personalities of the past as Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Alexander Griboyedov and Feodor Chaliapin, which became a kind of gigantic virtual mirror, reflecting the rich inner world of the artist, the immense macrocosm of his soul. The symphony created by him appears as a kind of musical monument dedicated to the supreme human ideals shared by the composer himself, which are filled with love, hopes, painful doubts, disappointments and indefatigable, passionate quest for harmonic unity of a personality with the infinity of the Universe.

Already the very beginning of the symphony symbolizes the triumph of light and life over the primeval darkness. As a prominent master of musical palette, Matchavariani has managed to express in the orchestral score the sense of primeval void, irreversibly accumulating in its relentless progressive advance gigantic strength of the energy contained within it. This very energy seems to rip open the dense crust of the void emptiness, exploding in a firework which lit up the whole Universe with all-illuminating constellation of life. This hypnotizing effect of the monstrous accumulation of energy reminds of the well-known canvass by Kasimir Malevich – "Black Square" with its deep emotional impact stipulated by the fact that the Black Square itself, as a symbol of dark and nothingness, hypnotically attracts the eye attempting to penetrate the blackness in hope, beyond the impervious cover of dark, to discern vital energy contained within it.

Vehement craving of the artist for the attainment of harmonic unity with the Universe finds its expression in the final section of the second part of the symphony where, as a result of all agonizing and controversial dramatic collisions, there comes some, genially presented, uneasy “instable calm”, achieved by means of amazing combination of soothing hues of high-pitch string registers with the counter-directional frequent rhythmical pulsation of flutes. Simultaneously, there arises measured throbbing of powerful pulse on the one hand seeming to emanate from the unexplored galactic expanses, that is due to the application of the pianissimo of measured deep beats of bass-drum and plangent sounds of low-pitch bass registers and, on the other hand, seeming to be generated in our immediate vicinity, which is emphasized by the combination of the contrast between heavy beats of the same drum and accelerated rhythmical pulsation of muted trumpets. And all this is either dissolved into the boundless expanses of the Universe, or is imbibed by the depth of the soul of the artist himself. Distance and vicinity... Light and darkness... Pulsation of the Cosmos and the throbbing of the very creator of this cosmogonical masterpiece, the master, begotten by the Universe, who has in return paid his tribute of gratitude to the latter by recognizing its infinite grandeur.

In his 5th symphony, Alexi Matchavariani reveals not only his unsurpassed skill of musical painting, but verily the entire epic strength of his genius in respect to the creation of multilayer musical dramaturgy. It would be desirable specifically to dwell on a brief analysis of his dramaturgical style, which is feasible only given the very meticulous investigation of the depths of this multilayer quality. In the dramaturgy of “Ushba” there are no, as it were, “front” – main lines of development and “rear” – more secondary, a kind of accessory lines of musical background or accompaniment. Complete sovereignty of all layers of musical dramaturgy is achieved by means of the effect of wonderful, unswervingly rotating, in accordance with eternal laws of the Universe, multidimensional polyphonic holography, within which the permutation of various planes in relation to one another creates permanent circulation of priority of any of the lines at every stage of the musical drama. Thus, the paramount importance of all musical layers of the symphony for the purpose of creation of the single, global whole consists in their inseparable mutual entwinement.

Symphony No 5 “Ushba” by Alexi Matchavariani is an undisputable confirmation of the fact that his artistic creations have long surpassed the limits of purely Georgian national treasure and have occupied their due place in the inventory of the worldwide cultural heritage. In the past, this symphony was included in the repertoires of many of the best orchestras of the former USSR. Nevertheless, the only currently remaining recording of “Ushba” is that made by one of the world’s most famous orchestras – St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra of Mariinsky Theatre of Opera and Ballet. The lasting artistic value of this recording consists both in the geniality of the music itself and in incomparable performance provided by the orchestra under the direction of the worthy continuer of the artistic Cause of Alexi Matchavariani, a really excellent, internationally recognized musician, the composer’s son, conductor Vakhtang Matchavariani. Thanks to unlimited professional capabilities of the orchestra possessing truly all-comprehensive palette of musical hues, as well as thanks to the skill of the maestro at the conductor’s stand, performing ambassadorial mission in the cause of immortalization of his father’s music for the generations to come, this recording evokes the sentiment of rare triunity, comprising geniality of the music itself, consummate skill of the orchestra and virtually tremendous conducting skill in respect to musical embodiment of the orchestral score.

Boris Nikitenko

Photo By Stephane de Bourgies


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