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Giya KANCHELI (b. 1935)
Chiaroscuro (2010) [22:36]
Twilight (2004) [25:00]*
Gidon Kremer (violin)
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin)*
rec. December 2014, Lithuanian National Radio and Television, Vilnius ECM NEW SERIES 2442 (4811784) [47:36]
This is Giya Kancheli’s twelfth ECM New Series album, once again working with Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica in two significant premiere recordings released to coincide with the composer’s 80th year.
Chiaroscuro owes its title to painting techniques most associated with the renaissance and baroque, the dramatic contrasts of darkness and light and shade making a visual parallel to this music. This is a work that invites us in with gently expressive harmonies and sonorities, at times suggesting an almost cinematic romanticism. An atmosphere of nostalgia and regret is disturbed only by the ominous presence of a bass drum. This instrument tellingly heightens the dynamic peaks though these are brief interruptions of a generally soft mood, Gidon Kremer’s bow caressing the strings of his violin with intimate sensitivity, the shades in the music as often hinted at by harmonic stresses and a generally minor-key feel. There is a golden-section change, at which point the intensity of the orchestra threatens to overwhelm the soloist, after which a return is made to the mood of the opening, given luminous gloss by a major-key transformation.
Twilight brings together Gidon Kremer into a sublime musical match with violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, and was written at Kremer’s request for the annual Mozart Week in Salzburg. The work is summed up as “a touching meditation on mortality, written at a time when Giya Kancheli was recovering from illness and seeing in the leaves and branches of poplar trees outside his window a metaphor for change and transformation.” Kancheli further writes, “after being seriously ill, I now associate the wonders of nature with human life. Up to a certain point we do not pay attention to problems with our health. And then, suddenly, comes a moment of serious trial, when life – to speak metaphorically – hangs by a hair.” I’m sure most of us can find resonance in these words, and Twilight is the kind of piece that can generate all kinds of associations and emotional connections. As with Chiaroscuro there is an underlying softness, though the luminosity is lighter in general, the details of orchestration more the vista of a wide landscape than the dripping of cold water from black November branches. Without the bass drum there is however a desperate [intensity] to the ff interruptions – the lives of which have an inner turmoil in contrast to the more external brutality – if that is the correct word – to comparable moments in Chiaroscuro.
Halfway through Twilight there is a magical episode brought in by a stunning echo effect from the soloists. Rising harmonies and shimmering tremolandos offer hope, but there is a slow sequence of dramatic downturns before worlds of profound contemplation and chilling profundity are once again entered, the whole resolving in a quiet coda of striking beauty.
If Boulez was the conscience of the avant-garde in contemporary music, then Giya Kancheli might well be one of the great guardians of its Romantic spirit. Both of these pieces have an almost programmatic power to create images and shape moods, and if you love exploring the ‘adagio’ side of life then both of these works offer a great deal. Performances and recording are all exceptionally good, and the booklet has plenty of photos and anecdotal texts.