Modern masterworks by Victoria Borisova-Ollas

Victoria Borisova-Ollas is a Russian-born composer making her home in Sweden. If you (like me) aren’t familiar with her work, start with this recording. It’s stunning.

Borisova-Ollas writes deeply spiritual music, drawing on classical music traditions of the past as well as the present. And she’s an imaginative orchestrator. Her use of percussion is original and distinctive. Her harmonies are often modal.

The title track, “Angelus” was a commission from Munich for their 850th anniversary. Strolling through the city, Borisova-Ollas noted church bells seeming to peal from every corner.

“Angelus” builds on that impression. It begins with a modal melody, then adds the tunes rung by the various steeples in the city. The result isn’t a cacophony, but a glorious celebration of the sound and spiritual meaning of municipal bells. It’s an amazing tour-de-force.

“Before the Mountains Were Born” was commissioned by Andrey Boreyko and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. The ensemble had a stellar wind section, so Borisova-Ollas features them quite prominently in her orchestration. Plus, the work includes an extended cadenza featuring the flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon.

The “Creation Hymn” for string orchestra is reworked from a string quartet. And reworked is the word. Chords are thickened. Contrasts made more dramatic by alternating between full ensemble and a solo instrument. The power of the string ensemble gives more weight to the music, increasing its emotional impact. it’s a stunner.

After listening to this release, I started looking for other recordings of Borisova-Ollas’s music. Fair warning: you may do the same.

Victoria Borisova-Ollas: Angelus
Orchestral Works
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Andrey Boreyko, Martyn Brabbins, Sakari Oramo, conductors
BIS 2288

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