Giya KANCHELI (b.1935) Chiaroscuro (2010) [22:36] Twilight (2004) [25:00]
Gideon Kremer, Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violins)
rec. December 2014, Lithuanian National Radio and Television, Vilnius, Lithuania. DDD ECM 2442 (4811784) [47:36]
Giya Kancheli was born in 1935 in Tbilisi in Soviet Georgia and now lives in Belgium. Much of his music is distinguished by slow - though not ponderous - anguish that’s intelligently expressed in plangent minor melodies on strings or is otherwise redolent of that combination of tonality, tempo and instrumentation. Not unlike analogous approaches by composers such as Vasks and Sculthorpe, Kancheli’s is beautiful music. It is neither written merely to evoke a spurious atmosphere nor is it intended to be performed in a way so excessively reflexive as to become self-indulgent.
Kancheli writes movingly in a short personal creed in the CD booklet, of his belief that even beauty and creation cannot ‘withstand the destructive force’ of the world all around him and us. His is no call for action or optimism in the face of humanity’s refusals to learn all the obvious lessons. His music is bitter and sorrowful; it’s written - he says - for himself without expectations that it will find a large audience. In fact, Kancheli’s music is particularly accessible.
The violin playing of Gidon Kremer (in both pieces here) and Patricia Kopatchinskaja (in Twilight) is carefully supported by Kremer’s own ensemble, Kremerata Baltica. They shun any potential maudlin. They play crisply, trenchantly and effectively - like surgeons reaching in to examine and gently rearrange, perhaps, the very heart of a healthy patient. Deftly, they expose the valves and ventricles so as to leave us in awe as much at the patient’s own core as at their own unselfconscious dexterity.
For instance, the gentleness of the piano’s supporting variations at nine minutes or so into Chiaroscuro suggests empathy and common cause with Kancheli rather than merely exposing his apparent desperation. The repetition of the three Mahlerian ‘strokes’ which follow shortly thereafter thus come across not as anything more ‘real’; but correspondingly soul-searching.
Indeed, to continue the medical metaphor, these players seem to be as conscious of the soul as is a good psychiatrist. Yes, it’s something to be marvelled at. That marvel is best experienced from intimate knowledge of its object not by gaping from a distance. Nor do the players make the mistake of trying to infuse their own awareness of sadness, regret or wry resignation into Kancheli’s world. He is eloquent enough.
Rather, their tempi and phrasing appear to take the music at face value, to follow Kancheli’s orders. This decision of Kremer’s has the result that we come closer to the sear and at the same time the resistance to dolefulness represented by the contrast between soloist and orchestra; listen to the sensitive, almost tentative, yet stout tone of Kremer three or four minutes before the end of Chiaroscuro. He honours the piece by respecting its direction over any expectation we may have of lush weeping textures.
The slightly longer Twilight in some ways takes up where Chiaroscuro left off although the latter was written six years later. It is played with a greater gruffness by the two soloists and Kremerata Baltica. At times, the close proximity of the listener to the instruments comes across almost as roughness. It’s Kancheli’s intensity, not his rawness which impresses the most. The players exploit the music’s contrasts - particularly in texture. They also strike just the right balance between offering us what he wrote, and interpreting it to us.
The acoustic of the Lithuanian National Radio and Television studios in Vilnius has - or is miked to give - just the right amount of resonance. Undue ‘atmosphere’ is thankfully avoided. In addition to that statement by Kancheli, the booklet contains simple, personal reflections on the music by the composer and by Kremer. If you’re looking for a representative entry into this compelling music, this is a good place to start. Although Chiaroscuro and Twilight date from 2010 and 2004 respectively, there are no other recordings of them in the current catalogue - so existing lovers of Kancheli’s music will want to get them without hesitating.
This is a CD short in duration but strong on impact.