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Giya KANCHELI (b.1935)
Simi [26.42]
Mourned by the Wind (1984) [38.06]
Alexander Ivashkin (cello)
Russian State Symphony Orchestra/Valeri Polyansky
Recorded in the Grand Hall of Moscow Conservatory, September 2004
CHANDOS CHAN 10297 [64.59]

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These two works are fast becoming Kancheli repertoire pieces. Mourned by the Wind has been recorded by I Fiamminghi and Rudolf Werthen on Telarc, by the Bonn Beethovenhalle Orchestra under Dennis Russell Davies and by the Georgia State Symphony under Dzansug Kakhidze (Melodiya) amongst others. Simi has been graced by its dedicatee, Rostropovich, on another ECM disc, this time with the Royal Flanders Philharmonic but again with that great Kancheli proponent Kakhidze.

Both however have not yet appeared coupled, as far as I’m aware, so that this Chandos offering stakes a strong and persuasive claim in that respect. It is vital in pieces such as these that the recording is sympathetic and Chandos offers a spacious, all enveloping sound stage for these two works of enormous communing depth.

Simi, subtitled Bleak Reflections for cello and orchestra, means "string" in Georgian. It’s a work not far short of half an hour in length and one that needs and demands absolute concentration; inattention will inevitably lead to a feeling of unease with the idiom and a break in the intense connective tissue that the work deploys – it may seem merely keening and sorrowful but there’s a sure logic, both structural and emotive, that underlies it. The cello enters with rather bumpy lines, uneasy and unsure, over a veil of supporting orchestral sound; there’s an outburst at about 4.10 though the skein of the piece remains essentially quiescently withdrawn. A bigger interjection at 6.15 threatens to derail the meditative focus but instead the music becomes, if anything, tinged almost with sentimental gestures. This is abruptly dispensed by a fascinatingly compact conjunction of burgeoning Boogie Woogie gestures (has anyone else noted this of Simi?) and Hitchcockian-Herrmannesque slash. The cello’s shocked response is to ascend into the ethereal heights of the instrument’s register and for the orchestra to venture some vaguely baroque tinged gestures and to ratchet tension with bold percussive writing. Even so the piece ends with quiescent serenity.

Mourned by the Wind might be known better by some as Liturgy. It’s the bigger work, and has a greater range of dramatic outbursts. Written in four movements in memory of Givi Ordzhonikidze it strikes an immediate impression. The cello’s rocking figures are accompanied by mournful orchestral writing and by some colouristic innovations, notably some fascinating harpsichord sonorities. The outbursts of the second movement are followed by reflective stillness. Kancheli makes use of the piano, coiling the cello over the treble insistence of the keyboard instrument, and unfolding a Larghetto that has a concise chant-hymnal quality to it. The finale is the longest work and bears the greatest brunt of the outsize, sudden and shocking orchestral outbursts. These are grim and unyielding if short – there are tension-fuelled moments throughout, and many moments of stillness and reflection, as if the mind has been becalmed and then with catastrophic clarity suddenly remembers the inescapable realities of disaster, and of death. Once more the consoling end comes as some balm, as an absorption into some kind, at least, of acceptance.

Ivashkin and Polyansky exert unremitting energy in these works; the fluid and the shocking are controlled with great understanding. To those who seek a coupling of this kind – sorrowful though it is – then this partnership keens with commitment and a bitter truthfulness.

Jonathan Woolf

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