Elena Firsova (1950)

Elena Firsova showed up on my radar in the early 1990s, with her 3rd string quartet featured on the MCA/Arts & Electronis CD of the Lydian Quartet, and her orchestral piece “Cassandra” op. 60, on the BIS CD complementing orchestral works of Gubaïdulina. Of the two, it is evidently Gubaïdulina who ’till now received the limelight – I guess one ex-Soviet female composer was enough to satisfy the needs of the Western market -, but Firsova’s music is worth following. She is part of a generation of composers from the Soviet area come to age in the stultified late-Brezhnev years, and who, whether they did it overtly or covertly, invented their own brand of “modernism” which wasn’t just an imitation of the trends in vogue in the West. She is by the way the wife of composer Dmitri Smirnov, and, with him, one of the seven who had the honors of being violently denounced by musical Komissar-in-chief Tikhon Krennikov in 1979 – the others were Gubaidulina, Denisov (members of a generation born 20 years earlier), Viktor Suslin, Vyacheslav Artyomov, and Alexander Knaifel – for some reason, Schnittke didn’t get the honor. In 1992, the year of the demise of the Soviet Union, Firsova and Smirnov moved to England, and later received the British citizenship. They are still there. One of the things I like about the two is that, like Gubaïdulina and Denisov but unlike other from those generations of Soviet composers, like Silvestrov or Pärt and to an extent Artyomov, they never lapsed into a kind of mystical, neo-tonal neo-simplicity, never relinquished their ideal of composing music that remained “modern” and demanding.

Here are my reviews of Firsova’s works:

String Quartet No. 3 “Misterioso” (1980), in Lydian Quartet in Moscow, with works of Levon Chausian, Peter Child, Thomas Oboe Lee. MCA Classics AED 10108 (1990)

String Quartet No. 4 “Amoroso” (1989), in Stravinsky, Schnittke, Smirnov, Roslavets, Firsova: Music for String Quartet, by the Chilingirian Quartet. Conifer Classics 75605 51252 2 (1995), reissued on RCA/Catalyst 82876642832 2 (2004)

The Mandelstam Cantatas: Forest Walks op. 36 (1987), Earthly Life op. 31 (1984), Before the Thunderstorm op. 70 (1994). Ekaterina Kichigina (soprano), Studio for New Music Moscow, Igor Dronov. 1 Megadisc Classics MDC 7816 (2004)

Comments are welcome