Giya Kancheli: Little Imber (ECM New Series 1812)


Giya Kancheli
Little Imber

Nederlands Kamerkoor
Raschèr Saxophone Quartet
Klaas Stok conductor
Mamuka Gaganidze voice
Zaza Miminoshvili guitar
Matrix Ensemble
Rustavi Choir
Children`s Choir
Recorded May 2006 at Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam (Amao Omi)
Recorded August 2003 at Imber Village, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire (Little Imber)
Children’s Choir recorded October 2003 at Georgian Records, Tbilisi
Recording supervisor: Giya Kancheli
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“There is this saying that beauty will save the world. But who will save beauty? I think when you sit down at the piano and write music you are trying to do just that.”
–Giya Kancheli

During a total eclipse, there is only a small window of opportunity to watch the event with the naked eye when the moon has completely covered the sun, leaving a corona visible in near darkness. After totality is achieved, the first bead of sunlight peaks beyond the shaded moon in a phenomenon known as the Diamond Ring. This is the moment when viewers must either look away or otherwise protect their eyes. The two pieces on this album are very much like an eclipse, except that they are filled with Diamond Rings, moments of sheer musical intensity that blind the mind’s eye with their urgent desire to be heard.

Amao Omi (2005), the title of which translates to “Senseless War,” is uniquely scored for mixed choir and saxophone quartet. Through an exceptionally unified palette, quartet and choir echo one another in a microtonal journey of ascents and descents. The reeds are played by the phenomenal Raschèr Saxophone Quartet and recorded so as to become an extension of the voices, and vice versa. Like much of Kancheli’s music, Amao Omi swells to moments of dynamic rapture before quickly retreating into quiet solace. Often the choir and the quartet exchange roles: one passage finds the choir bolstering a series of saxophonic solos, while the next finds the latter in a more supportive role as the choir hangs its linear melodies in the airspace above. In those brief moments when the voices do shine their light, the effervescent nebula of the piece bursts into solar flares. Yet rather that shield ourselves from the glare, we willingly open ourselves to it.

Once in a great while, there is an inexplicably effective merging of sound, place, and intent that turns one’s heartstrings into music. Little Imber (2003) is one such composition. In June of 1944, the village of Imber, in Wiltshire’s Salisbury Plain, was evacuated as a strategic training ground for German-bound US troops. Its residents were never able to return, despite repeated protests before and after the war. To this day the village remains in the hands of the Ministry of Defence, which opens Imber’s St. Giles church once a year on the Saturday closest to the feast day (September 1) of its patron saint. Because the performance here was captured in that very church, this isn’t simply a landmark recording, but more importantly the recording of a landmark. The piece is scored more expansively than Amao Omi, though by no loss of intimacy, for small ensemble, voice, children’s and men’s choirs, and uses as its core text an anonymous poem about Imber:

Little Imber on the Downe,
Seven miles from any Towne,
Sheep bleats the unly sound,
Life twer sweet with ne’er a vrown,
Oh let us bide on Imber Downe.

The verse ends the piece on a bittersweet note, resounding with playful verve in the children’s voices before being taken up more somberly by the adults. Captivating solos from Georgian singer Mamuka Gaganidze take Little Imber to even greater heights and clearly manifest the music’s global reach.

When traversing the Kancheli landscape, one can always expect to come across something familiar. He makes use of weighty pauses to ensure that moments of resplendence never develop too far, lest we lose sight of the central path from which they deviate. Staying to true to that path is a spiritual task, and it is only to our benefit to keep our feet moving forward.

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