By Donald Rosenberg
Plain Dealer Music Critic
The sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk in the Barents Sea in August 2000 jolted Cleveland composer Dennis Eberhard. Already at work on a piano concerto for Russian-born Cleveland pianist Halida Dinova, he decided to pay tribute to the deceased sailors in an expansive work eventually titled "Shadow of the Swan."
This new recording featuring Dinova, with the St. Petersburg Cappella Symphony Orchestra under Alexander Tchernoushenko, is a bold and deeply affecting account of Eberhard's three-movement score. The music travels a vast soundscape, embracing contemporary and tonal techniques in its depiction of the tragic incident.
But "Shadow of the Swan" goes beyond its Russian sources. As he was writing the piece, Eberhard came upon Yevgeny Yevtushenko's poem, "Requiem for Challenger." The reference to the Challenger explosion as "this great white swan of death made from the last breath of seven evaporated souls" gave the composer his title and allowed him to bridge Russian and American cultures. Every moment in Eberhard's piece is fraught with dramatic implication. The opening movement, "The Fall," evokes the Kursk tragedy in menacing, mysterious music, with pianist and orchestra reflecting the chaos, silence and terror. The cadenza is almost unbearable in its suggestion of sailors trying to escape from their watery tomb.
Eberhard creates an aura of prayerful austerity in "Requiem," which moves in lines of solemn beauty, while "Quickening" is an anguished, if hopeful, response to the events, full of nervous, ethereal and noble incident. The recording conveys the score's sorrow and humanity with striking intensity. Dinova is a commanding soloist, both in the vehement passages and the lyrical gestures. She makes a terrible but forceful thing of the first-movement cadenza. Tchernoushenko and the St. Petersburg orchestra are impassioned, sensitive colleagues.
"Shadow of the Swan" is coupled here with Eberhard's "Prometheus Wept," a work for strings and basso in memory of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Sometimes reminiscent of early Penderecki, the score is at once haunting and compelling. A