Giya Kancheli: Chiaroscuro (ECM New Series 2442)

2442 X

Giya Kancheli
Chiaroscuro

Gidon Kremer violin
Patricia Kopatchinskaja violin
Kremerata Baltica
Recorded December 2014 at Lithuanian National Radio and Television, Vilnius
Engineers: Vilius Keras and Aleksandra Suchova
Mixing and mastering at Emil Berliner Studios, Berlin by Rainer Maillard, Manfred Eicher, and Vilius Keras
Produced by Manfred Eicher
U.S. release date: November 6, 2015

“Despite the world’s obvious achievement, our planet is still torn by bloody contradictions. And no progress in artistic activity can withstand the destructive force that easily cancels the fragile process of construction. (…) I write for myself, without having any illusions that ‘beauty will save the world.’”
–Giya Kancheli

The words of a composer-in-exile who lives so deeply inside time that he creates outside of it. Kancheli speaks them not in the interest of putting forth a mission statement, but to assess the measure of his art against the metric of history, the last century of which has birthed some of its brightest galaxies and darkest nebulae. In the context of his personal astronomy, Kancheli seeks out vestiges of indifference in a world built on denial of the same. On this disc you will find no healing but the honesty of a mixed spirit. Surely, the music not only abides by such sentiments but also thrives on their shadows.

The 2010 title composition, first in a program of two, is scored for violin and chamber orchestra. Despite its perennial format, it reads neither like a concerto nor a tone poem, but rather a procession led by one who follows his own invisible nature. The feeling of inseparability is strong as these figures—nodes in a pathway of nerves—bond and separate. The bass drum rumble that opens their 23 prosaic minutes of communication signals the subterranean heart of it all, which by virtue of the shimmering strings that follow sews its raiment anew. As in the music of Valentin Silvestrov, the piano here adopts a commentary role. Its very involvement reveals an internal expanse rivaled in scope among his previous works perhaps only by Trauerfarbenes Land.

Violinist Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica handle every note with the admiration of a curator. Kancheli opines humbly about the musicians’ contributions and recognizes that the simplicity of his thematic moon shines by the light of many suns. In this recording, he dubs Kremer the “true author” of Chiaroscuro and he himself its “co-author.” The level of integration and respect achieved from both is something to behold with awe. Likewise, the distance and birdlike liquidity of Kremer’s high notes in the final phase.

Kancheli and Friends

At a slightly longer duration of 25 minutes, Twilight (2004) is scored for two violins and chamber orchestra. Kremer is joined by protégé Patricia Kopatchinskaja, last heard on ECM playing the music of Galina Ustvolskaya. Although it is Kancheli’s first piece for this instrumentation, and written at Kremer’s behest, it will feel familiar to the Kancheli initiate. Inspired by a row of poplar trees outside his Antwerp studio, whose significance became clear to him after a brush with death, it treats life as a gift twice given. The addition of a second leading voice emphasizes this metaphor and changes the landscape considerably, collapsing the former procession into a molecule of new rotations. Merest hints of Kancheli’s past thematic staples whisper through the overgrowth, speaking through the photosynthesis of the present. Interrelationships of soloists and orchestra are gnarled and rooted, each pouring out from the last in the manner of a divided cell. Melodies and atmospheric changes occur with such aching force that it is all one can do to keep the skeleton from trembling.

Twilight abounds in prismatic effects. Like an enhanced chamber music, it magnifies the immediacy of smaller forces with implications of unwritten futures. A direct emotional line takes shape from motif to motif until a naked mystery prevails. Kancheli is therefore correct in his self-assessment: This is not an album in which to seek sanctuary. That being said, one may discern a ray or two in the bleakness of its canvas, for to the interpreters’ authorship must be added the listener’s own.

As is always the case with the Kancheli experience, moments of apparent eruption are in fact the opposite. Nowhere truer than in this program, where the occasional outburst is, if anything, an “inburst,” pushing the focal point ever farther toward forgetting. Cavernous engineering thus allows the orchestra’s solitude to come spilling out in consumption of tension. We do well to see these dynamic affordances, like album’s title, as variations on a grander theme—in this case of mortality, and the parentheses that are its beginning and end.

Kancheli’s most important recording since Exil.

(To hear samples of Chiaroscuro, please click here.)

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