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Giya KANCHELI (b. 1935)
Symphony No. 1 (1967) [20.33]
Symphony No. 4  (1975) [18.39]
Symphony No. 5 (1976) [19.49]
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/James DePreist
rec. Finlandia Hall, Helsinki, June 1994. DDD
ONDINE ODE8290 [59’21”]



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This disc has already been available but has now been re-issued at a lower price in a smart cardboard cover to mark Ondine’s 20th Birthday celebrations.

Unfortunately for Ondine and DePreist, two of the three symphonies here have already been released on Olympia in vastly superior performances by the Georgian State Symphony Orchestra under Dzhansug Kakhidze. I suppose it is similar to Elgar being played by British orchestras, but there is a rightness to these Olympia performances, although technically and recording quality wise, the Ondine release is the better bet. The Olympia discs still appear to be available, but you will get different couplings – the Ondine release is the only one to couple these three works.

Kancheli is not particularly well known, but deserves to be more so, based upon this evidence. Georgia, tucked away in the Caucasus, has a wide culture of folk music which it has protected vigorously against outside influences. On the classical side, composers such as Paliashvili, Machavariani, Tsintsadze and Taktakishvili all enjoyed wide acceptance within the Soviet Union. Kancheli belongs to the next generation, and similarly was well respected within the Eastern Bloc. He first rose to notice in the 1970s, and most of his works were premiered by the Georgian State Philharmonic Orchestra and Dzhansug Kahidze. His first work to be so premiered was the Concerto for Orchestra (1962), followed at regular intervals by his seven symphonies. In 1988, Kancheli was awarded the honorary title of Soviet People’s Artist.

Kancheli, in addition to his orchestral works, has spend a great deal of time working in the theatre and this has had an effect on his style. For many years he has been the musical director at the Rustaveli Theatre in Tbilisi. In this position, he has produced much music for both film and stage, including plays by Shakespeare, Anouilh, and Brecht.

His musical style has developed over the years from neo-Bartókian origins, towards an epic narrative inspired by Georgian folk music. He has in the past criticised the use of folk music in serious compositions, but while he avoids direct quotation of such material, the basic conception is shot through with the ancient tradition of ritual folk songs.

Kancheli’s symphonic writing is characterised by colourism and montage techniques. Symphonic tensions are missing. In compensation, he pieces together starkly contrasting elements into a balanced harmonious synthesis, often in a highly individual rondo form.

The First Symphony is influenced by a grotesque motoric quality in the style of Shostakovich march themes. It is built around two dynamic extremes – by turns stunning explosions in tutti sections and lyrical meditations. The overall effect is to create an image of a cosmic rite, in which time is no longer under our control. The wealth of timbres and the deluge of tonal levels hurtles the listener from one reality to the next at breakneck speed.

The Fourth Symphony “In Memoria di Michelangelo” was awarded a State Prize in 1976. The work is a tribute by the composer to Michelangelo, the 500th anniversary of whose birth fell in 1975. The symphony this time uses bells to accompany the rising and falling of the various themes, this time pacified by the celesta.

The Fifth Symphony has filled out a great deal compared with its predecessors and is reminiscent of the film music of Prokofiev and Shostakovich. In this symphony, instead of bells and celesta in the 1st and 4th, we hear a harpsichord carrying on the function of relief to the unending energy of tragedy.

Recommended highly, particularly if you cannot find the earlier Olympia issues.

John Phillips

see also Review by Rob Barnett




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