Alexander Knaifel: Lukomoriye (ECM New Series 2436)


Alexander Knaifel

Oleg Malov piano
Tatiana Melentieva soprano
Piotr Migunov bass
Lege Artis Choir
Boris Abalian conductor
Recorded February 2002 at The Smolny Cathedral, St. Petersburg
Engineer: Victor Dinov (St. Petersburg Recording Studio)
Recording supervision: Alexander Knaifel
Mastering: Boris Alexeev (engineer)
An ECM Production
Release date: April 20, 2018

As the fourth ECM New Series album dedicated to the music of Alexander Knaifel, Lukomoriye is both continuation and departure from previous discs. In the former sense, it pulls us deeper into the recesses of his faith; in the latter, it engages with more secular—though no less inspired—material. The program’s pillars rise from prayers to the Holy Spirit. Both O Comforter (1995) and O Heavenly King (1994) are written for choir, the second adding to that foundational grammar the punctuation of vibraphone and piano. Like Jeremiah in the pit, they look upward for grace. Their bead-like structure welcomes a thread of spiritual seeking, marking the passage of voices from firmament to soil as if to show us that the opposite trajectory is possible.

This Child (1997), played by pianist Oleg Malov, follows the Gospel of St. Luke. It opens with a single chord, played as if at a far corner of the room, before proximate notes finish the sentence. This sets up the Godly call and prophetic response, articulating questions that can only be answered by salvation. O Lord of all my life (2006), sung by bass Piotr Migunov to Malov’s electronically processed accompaniment, bonds itself with stillness. Through its 16 minutes of rewarding intimacy, Migunov sings with a vulnerability that recalls Sergey Yakovenko in Valentin Silvestrov’s Silent Songs. A prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, wherein humility is preached, and a poem from Pushkin, wherein idealism is crushed into a sinner’s prayer, render the sonic equivalent of a two-way mirror.

From the Word to the World, we are invited to A mad tea-party (2007), in which a heavily reverbed piano breaks its own suspension by the delicate play of a more immediate instrument, evoking both the frustrations and excitations of this pivotal scene in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Such contrasts might be counted as child-like impulses were it not for the conscious use of silence, touches of percussion, and whispers. Kindred details abound in Bliss (1997), wherein the composer’s wife, soprano Tatiana Melentieva, revives Pushkin. Her voice masterfully captures every shade of mythological revelry at hand with barest support from Malov at the piano.As in the title composition (written in 2002 and revised in 2009), even fully formed sentences flit through trees like birds in search of a new dawn, taking on the magic of their surroundings as they travel ever inward.

The ghost of Pushkin lingers in Confession (2003/04). Here Malov intones the words inaudibly, exploring love, carnality, and desire through the keyboard instead, every note as delicate as the balance of flesh and glory that every composer faces, yet few of which channel with such humility.

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