Giya Kancheli: Caris Mere (ECM New Series 1568)

 

Giya Kancheli
Caris Mere

Eduard Brunner clarinet
Maacha Deubner soprano
Kim Kashkashian viola
Jan Garbarek soprano saxophone
Stuttgarter Kammerorchester
Dennis Russell Davies conductor
Recorded April 1994 – January 1995
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The music of Giya Kancheli is firmly rooted in emptiness, in those silent spaces between musical gestures where the voice is born behind the words it sings. Kancheli seems also aware that silence can rarely be disconnected from violence, that in our configurations of human relations and conflict there are moments when one’s history ceases to exist in the utterable, moments that animate his musical frameworks with echoes of a distinct cultural memory. Such is the impetus for the composer’s Life Without Christmas cycle, which was begun on Abii ne viderem and is concluded with the present release.

Midday Prayers (for solo clarinet, soprano, and chamber orchestra) opens the album’s trio of compositions with a protracted meditation on Passion texts. An airy wash of sustained tones and rich orchestral timbres is broken by intermittent declarations of hidden sentiment. A certain dis-ease informs the winds, even as strings paint the thinnest veneer of hope. The seasoned Kancheli listener will have come to expect the intense dynamic distance to be found here, the balance of which focuses our attention on the details of quietude and an outburst’s potential to enlighten. A piano gives us the briefest glimpse into a time before strife ravaged a onetime joy. The piece’s sparseness makes its fuller moments shout with the force of an ensemble twice their size.

Caris Mere (for soprano and viola) moves with the same sense of unfolding as Midday Prayers, with the added hint of Medieval monophony. The title means “After the Wind” in Georgian and recalls that of his earlier piece, Vom Winde beweint (Mourned by the Wind). Where the latter expands with the looming presence of an entire orchestra, here we find that piece’s soloist with a voice that isn’t so much added as it is drawn from the viola’s heart. Kim Kashkashian and Maacha Deubner (previously heard to magical effect on Kancheli’s Exil) each carry their own weight, shedding it little by little as they scale new heights with every phrase. This music is arid but alive, the voice its only inhabitant, the lone survivor of a catastrophe immune to erasure.

Kronos Quartet fans will recognize the final piece, Night Prayers, from their album of the same name. This extended version (for saxophone and string orchestra) begins with very deep voices, resounding from the liminal realm that is tape, accentuated by a knotty fringe of strings. As saxophonist Jan Garbarek pierces the gloom with his light, the piece flaps its thematic shutters like a quiet storm. Generally a very meditative journey, though not without its moments of rapture, Night Prayers is a captivating highpoint of Kancheli’s spiral of sound. Jan Garbarek gives due respect to the music at hand, and makes the most of a brief improvisational window in an otherwise precisely notated architecture.

 

Kancheli’s music is a hall of mirrors, each one distorting us differently. Ruptures of energy inflict the pain of restriction upon a population that knows only freedom, and we become implicated among the oppressed. This is music that clearly delineates the boundary between the influence of tradition (such as it is conceived) and the power of hegemony.

3 thoughts on “Giya Kancheli: Caris Mere (ECM New Series 1568)

  1. A thorough and discriminating review. I wonder if you still have reservations about this album’s overall aesthetic efficacy for want of a better phrase. I often move between Exil and this recording almost seamlessly – though I do tend to skip to track 3 which seems to function in an almost time-zone for me. Anyway, just wondered what you thought. I do sometimes why Kancheli inserted the titular track in between the two prayers as I don’t really like it much nor see its connection. Anyway.

    1. Yes, I sometimes wish the title piece wasn’t in there at all. I suppose one could see it as a cleansing disruption, much in the same way that the “Dies irae” functions in Arvo Pärt’s Miserere. On the other hand, it breaks an otherwise consistent mood. Either way, I’m sure there was a considered reason for its inclusion.

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