Alexander Knaifel: Psalm 51; Amicta Sole

Mstislav Rostropovich / Arkady Steinlucht

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Alexander Knaifel: Psalm 51; Amicta Sole Review

by Blair Sanderson

Whether instrumental or vocal, Alexander Knaifel's transcendental works on this 2005 ECM New Series release are quiet expressions of sacred texts, though in some aspects rendered in an internalized manner. Psalm 51 (50) for solo cello is a minimalist and muted instrumental gloss on the Biblical text, which Mstislav Rostropovich interprets in a slow, cantorial manner, as if silently forming the words in his mind or with his lips, but "singing" through his instrument. The cello's full range is exploited, though its long recitative -- reproduced in miniature in the liner notes -- is ethereally high for most of the piece. Amicta Sole (Clothed with the Sun) for soprano, boy choir and orchestra is a more direct setting of an Orthodox Christian prayer to the Trinity and the two genealogies of Christ, Matthew 1:2-16 and Luke 3:23-38. Yet here, too, the orchestra is required to connect mentally to the texts through their playing, and perhaps merge with the singers in a unified expression of spirituality. Tatiana Melentieva, the Boys Choir of Glinka Choral College, and the State Hermitage Orchestra, under Arkady Steinlucht, blend well in Knaifel's shimmering veils of pandiatonic harmonies and create celestial sonorities that float in a mystical ambient. ECM's sound quality is quite resonant and gives the performances a softly blurred edge.

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