Victor Kissine: Between Two Waves (ECM New Series 2312)

Between Two Waves

Victor Kissine
Between Two Waves

Andrius Žlabys piano
Daniil Grishin viola
Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė violoncello
Andrei Pushkarev percussion
Gidon Kremer violin
Kremerata Baltica
Roman Kofman
Recorded July 2011 at Lockenhaus Festival
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
An ECM Production

Ears stretch sensitive sails,
dilated eyes lose fire,
over the silence swims
the night-birds’ soundless choir.
–Osip Mandelstam, “Stone”

After appearing in the shadows as arranger of Schubert’s G-major quartet in a reference recording by the Kremerata Baltica, and later in the company of Tchaikovsky, Russian-born and Belgium-based composer Victor Kissine at last gets the full ECM treatment in a program that spans his transition from chamber music to larger-scale pieces. In the latter vein we have the title composition for piano and string orchestra, composed in 2006 and revised in 2008. Built on the chorale Es ist genug of Bach’s Cantata BWV 60, it professes an interest in the spaces between notes on a score, if not also in their limpid pools of darkness, wherein swirl galaxies of further music. Here we find Kissine rekindling his association with the Kremerata Baltica, along with pianist Andrius Žlabys, whose initial dustings give materiality to the light of the piece’s opening breaths. The strings, too, carry their own torch, to which clings the truth-bringing qualities of emptiness. The relationship between the two is therefore neither that of dialogue nor of debate. It is, rather, an expression of two lesions on the same skin, separated by enough distance to be unseen from any single vantage point but close enough to be felt by wandering hands. The result is a troubling piece—which is not to say that it is difficult but merely a disturbance of waters, a node of silence in such a state of motion that it seems still. Kissine is thus that rare composer who, like Alexander Knaifel, is so attentive to negative space that it becomes positive. The profundity of this process cannot be overstated.


The Duo (after Osip Mandelstam) of 1998/2011 pairs violist Daniil Grishin and cellist Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė in one of the most exquisite classical pieces ever recorded for ECM. What begins in the barest breath turns to a grammatical innovation: instruments speaking before they open their mouths. The effect is such that, even when the bows call from more orthodox hilltops, they are switching tongues with the self-awareness of seasoned translators. Glissandi act like an insect’s feelers searching the air for pheromones. Overlapping gestures speak to a shared core among the instruments—a life force of shapeless, autumnal color. Catharses are few and far between, falling instead under the spell of exhalation.

Kremer joins his orchestra, along with percussionist Andrei Pushkarev, for the 2007 Barcarola. A self-styled “concerto in watercolor,” it is all the more intimate for being so full and seeks no answer but its own questioning. Footprints along string paths dissipate like liquid mercury on an uneven surface. Violin trills describe the dances of those whose bone structures bend and break in tensile patterns. And yet, despite a wide dynamic range, the drama is neither theatrical nor cinematic, but literary. It jumps like the eye across a page in anticipation of what happens next but finds itself being pulled back until the ending draws a circle of self-realization. And there you stand.

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