Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Simi - Joyless Thoughts for cello and orchestra [28.10]
Magnum Ignotum [22.28]
Royal Flanders PO/Jansug Kakhidze
ECM NEW SERIES ECM 1669 462 713-2 [50.38]

The sound favoured by ECM is unglamourised but conveys the impression of weight and fidelity. A pugnacious lack of glamour also characterises their black and white sleeve designs.

Kancheli, Tbilisi born, studied with Iona Tuskiya graduating from Tbilsi Conservatory in 1963. His Fourth Symphony won the State Prize in 1976. He left his homeland impelled by the winds of violent change that swept through Georgia in the early 1990s. After three years in Berlin he moved to his present base in Antwerp in 1994.

Kancheli glowers at and around the margin of tonality. He does not stray very far- witness the unequivocal tranced tonality of the closing three minutes. With a subtitle like that, Simi, soulfully played by Rostropovich is what you might expect. It takes as its apparent point of departure the darker reaches of Sibelius 4 and ploughs a slow furrow into even more tenebrous realms. Tragedy spills from Rostropovich's bow. This work could easily partner Frank Bridge's Oration. Simi, by the way, is Georgian for 'trembling string'. At 10.29 and 16.20 the gloom is lit by the twilight of a ghostly silky tendril of melody limned by cello and piano This rises to a series of brief, belligerent and thunderous statements for full orchestra. These are shot through with Petterssonian and Shostakovich-like elements: furious and caustic. Rostropovich writes that Kancheli's music should be played as slowly as possible. The great 'inscape' spaces evoked by this music are comparable with the even broader canvas of Valentin Silvestrov's Fifth Symphony (still available on BMG-Melodiya) and Arvo Pärt's Cantus.

Magnum Ignotus (The Great Anonymous) is for wind ensemble and tape. The tape track uses a priest reading in the cathedral of Anchiskhati, a 1930s recording of three elderly West Georgian men singing a polyphonic improvisation and the vocal ensemble Rustawi singing Uphalo Ghmerto (Holy God) over the dead iron chatter of stilled bells. The slowed passage of time and the suggestion of eternity is here no cipher for monotony. It is the musical equivalent of a dear and trusted friend's whisperings carried on a web of Bachian melisma and long held notes akin to the music of John Tavener. The ensemble comprises: flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 french horns and double bass. There is nothing bluff or hearty about this music: vintage Kancheli. An acrid thoughtful nostalgia breathes mistily over these pages. Only towards the end of the long central passage for the band alone does the material slow to a pace where a reflection shudders towards collapse.

Both works are conducted by Janzug Kakhidze who has premiered all the Kancheli symphonies and whose recordings of four of them (3-6) are on the all too reticent Olympia label (OCD 401 and OCD 403) and a single disc collection of 6 and 7 on SONY SMK 66590. The conductor is a close associate of the composer and has been since the 1950s. Kancheli is fortunate in such a constant 'flame'.

Two minor caveats: playing time is short and the notes while probing and authoritative do not give essentials like the date of each composition. Otherwise the sombre and sincere eloquence of this disc is totally compelling.

Rob Barnett

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