About this Recording
9.70167 - BURSTEIN, K.: Symphony, "Elixir" / Songs of Love and Solitude (Novikaite, Kaunas City Symphony, Burstein)

Keith Burstein (b. 1957)
Symphony ‘Elixir’ • Songs of Love and Solitude


Symphony ‘Elixir’ grew from a first movement originally conceived as a Concerto for Orchestra. When the conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy heard and enjoyed this work Keith Burstein developed further movements under his encouragement and realised that the character of the work had become symphonic. An extended process of development followed with initial performances of each movement separately. The symphony was not performed as a whole until this recording (2013), which therefore represents its world première as a complete work.

The sense of questing was further enhanced by the circumstances of the recording which took place in Lithuania, the region of Eastern Europe and Russian borderlands from where the composer’s family originated. It was his first visit to the area. Both his parents (Samuel and Barbara, each violinists), were born in the United Kingdom but his paternal ancestors were Russian.

The first movement’s title, Energico Nuovo, signifies the intention of the music to strike out in a new direction, which for the composer meant an exploration of how his new tonal language could express itself in the vehicle of symphonic form. The music is at once many-layered and dynamically driven, the listener being invited to undertake an ardent journey of the soul.

The second movement, Adagio, repeatedly unfurls a long soaring melody about which several counter-themes are weaved, sometimes in five- or six-part polyphony (many voiced style). The orchestration now becomes more focused and integrated in contrast to the concerto style of the first movement, a process which continues into the third movement.

Alla Marcia, Alla Danza (like a march, like a dance), the third and final movement, gathers the disparate elements of the first two movements together. The halting opening ’march’ theme transmutes into a scintillating waltz which carries the music upsurgently to its conclusion. Under the final bars is heard the opening melody of the symphony signifying the cyclical character of the work.

The term ‘Elixir’ comes from alchemy, and implies a transformational or magical ritual in which a sacred essence is extracted, and relates to a notion of a life-giving force.

Since the heyday of the symphony, or when it was last a dominant form in classical music, arguably the late nineteenth century and onwards into the first half of the twentieth, new classical music, as a genre of music, has now rather more competition than before to gain the attention of the public. One way to regain it after many years of atonalism may be (in the view of the composer) to rejuvenate the traditional forms of music with musical material that is nevertheless contemporary in character. A review of the symphony described Burstein as “a contemporary master of tonality” (David Sonin).

To complement the symphony he has written a new song cycle, Songs of Love and Solitude, especially for the purpose of this recording, with the same orchestral forces (except with harp instead of timpani), the extended orchestral song cycle being another great classical musical form, in this case of quasi-symphonic extent.

The twelve songs of the cycle comprise glimpsed inner moments of the heart in a series of fleeting spiritual visions or ‘confessions’. They imply a hidden drama which spans a wide range of experience from tempestuous darkness to serene light and acceptance.

Close the window