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Djansug Kakhidze - The Legacy: Volume 5
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche Op.28 (1895) [15:09]
Don Juan Op.20 (1888) [17:21]
Ein Heldenleben Op.40 (1899) [41:23]
Avet TERTERIAN (1929-1994)
Symphony No.3 (1973-5) [29:32]
Giya KANCHELI (b.1935)
Symphony No.3 (1973) [30:21]
The Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra/Djansug Khakhidze
rec. 1997, Djansug Khakhidze Centre for Music & Culture, Tbilisi.
CUGATE CLASSICS CGC005 [74:09 + 60:31]

This pair of discs form volume 5 of the 80th anniversary collection of conductor Djansug Kakhidze who died in 2002 aged 67. Kakhidze was a driving force behind much of what was achieved in recent years in the realm of Classical Music in Georgia and the ten discs which include these two form a fitting tribute. Over the years many of these recordings have appeared on minor or even bargain labels, which might imply a certain lack of preparation in the performances or superficiality in interpretation. Not so; the orchestra is the Tibilisi Symphony Orchestra which Kakhidze founded in 1993 and they are a technically impressive ensemble and the recording in the concert hall which Kakhidze was instrumental in getting built is good too.

This is very much a musical monument to the conductor, with the repertoire relegated to showing the range and insight of his music-making. This is evidenced here by the slightly odd juxtaposition of three big Strauss tone poems on one disc and a pair of 'modern' symphonies from the Armenian Avet Terterian and a fellow Georgian Giya Kancheli. The liner notes which provide interesting and personal essays on the composer from his son Vakhtang Kakhidze and colleague/record producer Memo Rhein as well as an extended biography, say not a word about the music. So in many ways this is an easy choice for the collector; if the work of this conductor and his orchestra is of interest, buy with confidence.

However, if you are looking to expand your Strauss collection look elsewhere. In all three of the tone poems the playing is perfectly good without being exceptional and much the same can be said of the interpretations. There are passages of considerable beauty and skill but these are countered by the oddly brash and matter of fact - performances that would be enjoyed as one-offs in the concert hall without having the stature to be enshrined on disc. In truth the catalogue groans so much under the weight of technically accomplished virtuosic versions of all this music that these versions simply cannot compete. As it happens, I am in the early stages of listening to another version of Till Eulenspiegel from Emmanuel Krivine in Luxembourg and while that disc is far from flawless, Krivine is a much wittier and nuanced creator of this Straussian rogue. Both the shorter tone poems suffer from a harsher recording environment than Ein Heldenleben. Indeed the solo violin in Till is given as harsh and steely a sound as I have heard - fortunately the extended helpmate sequence in the longer tone poem is more generously recorded and well played although the wife/violin is again forthright rather than sensuous.

Ein Heldenleben is presented as a single forty minute track which is a shame and again Kakhidze proves to be a rather plain if forceful interpreter. The battle sequence is positively brisk but allied to the blare of the brass it makes for an exciting if rather raucous sequence. But in all three of these tone poems Kakhidze seems determined not to dwell or expand in an overtly Romantic manner. So both the glorious arrival of the heroic horn octave leap in Don Juan and its reminiscence in Ein Heldenleben steadfastly refuse to expand even a fraction. Kakhidze opts for the more standard loud ending of Heldenleben and again one is aware that the orchestral tone hardens over the climax as opposed to expanding as is surely preferable.

The companion disc of the Third Symphonies by Terterian and Kancheli faces less competition and is of greater interest. Kakhidze, on disc at least, is the most prolific performer of the symphonies of fellow Georgian Giya Kancheli. Just recently on the MusicWeb message board a poster felt that his approach was dreary. My sole guide to this sequence of symphonies has been Kakhidze - his earlier discs appeared on the now-defunct Olympia label - so I can make no comparative judgements, but his working relationship with the composer must confer a degree of validity on his musical choices at least. The same poster described the other performance given here - Terterian's 3rd Symphony - as dull, unimaginative and plodding. Here I have to disagree. This was the first version of the symphony I got to know but there are two others to consider: Tjeknavorian on ASV and Michael Helmrath with the Dresden Sinfoniker in a live concert on Arte Nova. In addition a fourth version I have not heard can be listened to in full via the Terterian website - http://www.terterian.org/en/works/audio/audiofiles - which includes low-res recordings of all of his eight symphonies except No.5.

The Tjeknavorian is, by some distance, the swiftest and least engaging performance of this remarkable piece. Without access to a score these have to be rather generalised comments, but it strikes me that this work needs to be presented as massive slabs of sharply differentiated material; action/stasis - solo instrument/massed group - silence/walls of sound. By minimising these contrasts - which of course still exist but are less sharply etched - Tjeknavorian makes for a slicker ride. Helmrath's performance is much more impressive - especially for a live concert where much of this music pushes the playing to the edge of collapse. Perhaps because of that, and Helmrath's efforts to 'shape' the music more, I find the extremes of Kakhidze's version are tempered in this version - some might prefer this moderated approach. The slightly harsh, almost brutalised qualities I heard in the Strauss to those works’ detriment are evident here too but undoubtedly add to the character and impact of Kakhidze's performance. There are several striking features in this music. Terterian likes to juxtapose glowering storm-cloud slabs of drums and pedal brass and winds and single voiced keening sustained notes. Key points are signposted by slaps on an orchestral whip or timpani roulades. High up must be the inclusion of pairs of Eurasian double-reed wind instruments; the zurna and the duduk (this information is courtesy of a reviewer on Amazon which I have no independent way of verifying!). They burst through the near-silent texture (after another whip-gesture) at around 8:40 which in turn induces an extraordinary antiphonal series of horn whoops from the 12 horns the score requires. The Tiblisi horns are not completely perfect in this passage but the attack and wild abandon they bring to the playing (surely at the extremity of the instrument's capability) which this kind of musical maximalism demands, is far more unfettered and 'dangerous' than either of the other 2 versions. More percussive shuddering convulsions lead into another passage of near monophonic stasis punctuated by 3 massive full orchestral minor chords. This leads into the central barren plain of the second movement. As with many extended passages in Tertertian's works this is a near featureless landscape from which occasional lamenting wind lines emerge over a static drone/pedal and gently tolling chimes [crotales?]. I find this to be a hypnotically impressive movement and again I like the atmosphere Kakhidze generates. I wonder if the level of the recording boosts the dynamics more than is ideal? Much of Terterian's music seems to exist on the edge of perception or at the opposite extreme of acoustical violence.

Towards the end of this 8:30 movement two discordant notes overlay the drone which again leads attacca into the dynamic finale. Drums and shakers lead off a thrilling compound-time (7/4 or 7/8) dance. Again horns and trumpets blare a powerful warning call against strings and whip. A bass piano figure - oddly reminiscent of Mission Impossible! - punctuates the texture before folk wind instruments add their own vision of wildness to the mayhem. This continues unabated for some 4:30 before a guillotine-like termination of action replaces it by shivering stasis and a return to the monodic drones. The horns lead to one final explosive outburst and the music sinks into the silent wilderness. This is quite unlike any other music (aside from this composer) I know and it certain makes a powerful and enduring impression. Something for a visionary Proms-planner perhaps before another Strictly Come Dancing 'event'.

The Kancheli breathes much the same air, with extremes juxtaposed. Kancheli uses a wordless counter tenor voice to book-end the work. Again, I wonder if the engineering here places this ethereal sound too close and prominent in the mix, pleasing though the un-named singer's voice is. The symphony is of very similar length to the Terterian and again forms one continuous stream of music. The stabbing harshness of the orchestral playing - when required - again seems wholly appropriate here. It is noticeable that Kancheli's outbursts are literally one or two stabbed chords or some few seconds of sustained orchestral dynamic. There is nothing equivalent to Terterian's unrelenting machine-shop mayhem. The sole exception to this is a Rite-of-Spring-like section - around 20:30, strongly reminiscent of the Sacrificial Dance, which lasts nearly three minutes - this sustained energy causes the music to collapse exhausted for the closing quarter of the work which is a sequence of heart-beats from the drums, phasing string sustains before it ends as it began with a gentle melisma from the counter tenor over a deep-toned tamtam. It is important to reiterate that I have only encountered this work via this performance and again with no score to refer to it is hard to glean what might or might not be lacking. In its own terms I enjoyed this piece, although I find the Terterian lingers longer in my memory.

So, something of a curate's egg as a pair of discs. The Strauss disc adds little to one's knowledge or appreciation of the scores and with the fierce competition at all price points it would be impossible to recommend these performances above any others in terms of repertoire alone. The Terterian is something of a find as a piece and one powerfully promoted by this recording. Likewise the Kancheli deserves to be heard by those interested in the post-modern symphony. Whether this specific performance is the one to have I cannot say, but I enjoyed it. Something of a set for the specialist collector but along the way an important reminder of the calibre of music-making both in terms of performance and composition away from the commonly accepted centres of Western Art Music.

Nick Barnard

 

 



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