Derek Lee Ragin countertenor
Thomas Demenga cello
Dennis Russell Davies piano
Dennis Russell Davies conductor
Recorded January 2001 at Mozart-Saal, Liederhalle, Stuttgart
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Produced by Manfred Eicher
“…I feel that, conceptually, I am still living in the age of the horse and carriage and the first motor cars.”
Giya Kancheli is a composer of contrasts. Hardly limited to the vast dynamic distances that have marked his work with increasing frequency, these contrasts also flourish in less discernible areas. We find them in mood, in timbre, and perhaps most vividly in the dance of sacred and secular that traces communicative patterns all over the music’s surface. The analogy is no accident, for dance would seem to be capital of the expansive territory etched herein.
The program’s title work, composed in 1997 and named after a drum of Kancheli’s native Georgia, is scored for violoncello, countertenor and orchestra. It begins where all of his works begin: inside. The piano is explored as a cavity in which echoes of Górecki’s Third Symphony comingle with every dancing scene of an Angelopoulos film, seen through a scrim of tears. The inclusion of guitar in the sound mix adds fractures to this glassine surface, while the cello births a countertenor voice from its winged enclosure (these roles reverse as the narrative develops). Though one might expect an ECM regular like David James for this recording, Kancheli has chosen instead a more vulnerable style in Derek Lee Ragin (who also gave the work’s premier). The match is perfect. Half-formed reinstatements of familiar motives shine through Ragin’s vocal branches, even as the strings weave a blanket of stillness over him from the piano’s block chords. At times Thomas Demenga’s song is hardly distinguishable from Ragin’s—not a question of resemblance but of presence. Small clusters of piano arpeggios roll down a hillside of tubular bells, tripping over their own voices. The titular hand drum makes a modest appearance toward the end, bringing with it the sound of villages and forgotten places. Hands brush across its skin in the final whisper, thus stretching to near invisibility one of Kancheli’s subtlest veils of sound. A masterpiece.
Dedicated both to Dennis Russell Davies (who conducts here from the bench) and to his wife (“with whom I have never danced”), Valse Boston for piano and strings (1996) opens with a strike from the keyboard. These outbursts crystallize like philosophies into their core questions. The orchestra breathes in and out through the instrument that enables its expressivity. Each measure is a microcosm held by the cosmos to the eye of a speechless god. Moments of pathos are few and far between, and all the more beautiful for the brevity of their passing. This wondrous music allows us to rethink the parameters of what we consider minimal. The single utterance never lingers yet its taste never dulls. Through this cumulative simplicity we find a monad of audible existence that has passed through us all. It is a silence, a heaviness that links memory to death, and in so doing illuminates the good deeds of our lives.
If we take the composer’s words above at face value, then we might cradle his music as one might a rare antique. There is history in its bruises, and these we can touch only with the intent to heal.