Since February 2022, when Russia invaded its neighbor Ukraine, we’ve received fresh reminders of the horrors and atrocities of war. So it’s timely that the brilliant Ukrainian pianist and composer Vadim Neselovskyi—best known for his associations with Gary Burton, Arkady Shilkloper, John Zorn, and his teaching position at the Berklee College of Music—has offered this new work for solo piano: a suite in 13 movements, written and recorded in 2019 and dedicated to his hometown of Odesa.
The music is compellingly presented as a walking tour through one of the most glorious European cities, once known as the center of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union, as well as the setting for the climactic montage of Sergei Eisenstein’s groundbreaking film Battleship Potemkin.
The suite evokes memories and experiences in the composer’s life, including the dark, dramatic “Prologue,” the stately theme and variation of “Central Railway Station,” and the delicate icy beauty of “Winter in Odesa.” You can almost feel the breeze rustling through the leaves of the exotic “Acacia Trees.” “Potemkin Stairs” features tumbling descending lines, suggesting the film’s famous runaway baby carriage. On a more personal and affecting level is the Rococo-esque “Waltz of the Odesa Conservatory,” where Neselovskyi was the youngest student ever accepted.
Perhaps most moving is the chilling “Odesa 1941,” which musically depicts the 73-day siege of Odesa by Axis forces, culminating in the Romanian massacre of 11,000 Jews. Despite this, and the Sturm und Drang of current battlefield conflicts, the piece ends in luminous, inspiring hope (“The Renaissance of Odesa”).
As I write this review, the war grinds on in its second phase and Neselovskyi is embarking on a world tour to perform this suite for international audiences. All album and concert revenue will benefit Ukraine humanitarian efforts.