Giya KANCHELI (b. 1935)
Themes from the Songbook
Earth, This is Your Son (film, Revaz Chkheidze, 1980), Herio Bichebo [3:43]
Bear’s Kiss (film, Sergei Bodrov, 2002), Theme [3:26]
The Crucible (play, Arthur Miller, dir. Robert Sturua, 1965), Main theme [3:19]
As You Like It (play, William Shakespeare, dir. Robert Sturua, 1978), Theme [5:54]
Don Quixote (film, Revaz Chkheidze, 1988), Theme: Variation 1 [2:31]
Hamlet (play, William Shakespeare, dir. Robert Sturua, 1992), Theme: Variation I [1:32]
King Lear (play, William Shakespeare, dir. Robert Sturua, 1989), Theme [1:56]
Don Quixote, Theme: Variation II [1:54]
Kin-Dza-Dza (film, Georgi Daniela and Revaz Gabriadze, 1986), Main theme [2:37]
The Role for a Beginner (play, Tamaz Chiladze, dir. Robert Sturua, 1979), Main theme [2:27]
Twelfth Night (play, William Shakespeare, dir. Robert Sturua, 2001), Theme [1:56]
Cinema (film, Liana Eliava, 1977), Main theme [1:36]
Hamlet, Theme: Variation II [1:35]
Richard III (play, William Shakespeare, dir. Robert Sturua, 1979), Waltz [2:13]
Minimo (film, Georgi Daniela and Revaz Gabriadze, 1977), Theme [2:49]
Don Quixote, Theme: Variation III [1:45]
When Almonds Blossomed (film, Lana Gogoberidze, 1972), Main Theme [5:53]
The Eccentrics (film, Eldar Shengelaia and Revaz Gabriadze, 1973), Waltz [3:07]
Hamlet, Theme: Variation III [4:15]
Earth, This is Your Son, Herio Bichebo (sound track recording) [5:19]
Dino Saluzzi (bandoneon); Gidon Kremer (violin); Andrei Pushkarev (vibraphone)
rec. May 2010, Rainbow Studio, Oslo, Norway and Latvian Radio, Riga, Latvia
ECM 2188 [59:46]
The intensely spiritual quality of Georgian composer Giya Kancheli’s music explains why he is often mentioned in the same breath as Arvo Pärt or John Tavener. There are certainly points in common, but Kancheli’s music is even more immobile, and silence plays an important part. It casts a powerful spell, only to be broken by sudden, tearing violence.
Manfred Eicher of ECM Records has consistently championed the music of Kancheli, but this disc will come as a surprise to those who already have the others. Alongside his symphonic work, Kancheli has always composed music for the theatre and for films, and in 2009 he published an album of thirty-three such pieces entitled Simple Music for Piano. Here are nineteen of them, interpreted by the Argentinean bandoneon player, Dino Saluzzi, the Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer, and the Ukrainian vibraphone player Andrei Pushkarev.
Having no access to the album itself, I can only imagine how free these interpretations are, but I think they must be very free indeed. Most of the pieces are duets, with all three musicians playing together only once. The recordings are the result of two sessions, in which Kremer and Saluzzi did not meet, their joint efforts achieved by overdubbing. The recorded sound is close and glamorous, allowing us to hear the clicks of the bandoneon keys, as well as leaving us in no doubt that a violin involves scraping hairs over strings. The booklet features a useful essay by the composer’s son that is difficult to follow at first, but which becomes clear as one gets to know the music.
For the most part, the pieces are slow and pensive in mood. Whether Gidon Kremer’s tremolando playing is the most appropriate way of accompanying the ideas expounded in Arthur Miller’s masterly play The Crucible is a moot point - and there is no way of knowing from this disc how the original sounded - but the result is certainly highly affecting, gloomy and sinister. Kancheli has apparently written a fair amount of music for plays by Shakespeare. It’s not only the instrumentation that makes the music for As You Like It sound more appropriate for a romantic film from the fifties than a Shakespeare play. The harmony of this essentially static piece features the added sixths and diminished and augmented chords so typical of the gently jazz-influenced music of that genre. The first variation on the theme from Don Quixote sounds more Georgian than anything Spanish; here, Gidon Kremer plays a melancholy minor key melody in a duet with himself. Hamlet is represented by the bandoneon, and the following piece, for solo vibraphone, could almost be an extract from Francis Lai’s music for Un homme et une femme, so it’s surprising to find that it was written for King Lear. The theme for the film Kin-Dza-Dza, on the other hand, features some ticking rhythms and even a few louder passages that are welcome in context.
For The Role for a Beginner Kancheli produced a tune which can only be described as cheerful and catchy, both extraordinary adjectives to apply to this composer. There follows a restrained, minor-key jig punctuated with silences (Twelfth Night), and the wistful sadness of Cinema is very touching. This disc would be a winner for anyone playing “Spot the Composer”. Even the most musically aware of dinner guests would be hard pressed to come up with the right name here.
The arrangement of the Waltz from Richard III must be a very free one indeed, as I could detect no discernible waltz rhythm therein. Perhaps the most beautiful piece on the disc is the theme from the film Minimo, superbly played in vertiginous heights by Gidon Kremer. The disc begins and ends with the song “Herio Bichibo” from the film Earth, This is Your Son. It is first given as a duet between bandoneon and vibraphone, whereas track 20 is an extract from the film soundtrack, sung by Jansug Kakhidze, a close associate of the composer, particularly as a conductor. It makes for a very touching close.
If you want to find out if the music of Kancheli is for you, I suggest you begin with Mourned by the Wind, a beautiful and moving work for cello and orchestra. The present disc is not at all the same thing. It is a kind of concept album, as different from what one expects from Kancheli as can be imagined, yet also very beautiful in parts and often very touching. It will make perfect relaxed, late night listening, and I think many people will purchase it for that purpose.
William Hedley 

Kancheli’s music for stage and screen, reinterpreted; surprising and different. Perfect relaxed, late night listening.