Keller Quartet / Oleg Malov / Tatiana Melentieva / Andrei Siegle

Alexander Knaifel: Svete Tikhiy

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A recent entry in ECM's consistently interesting series presenting music from the former Soviet Union, this release offers two 1990s compositions from the Uzbek-born Alexander Knaifel. The composer described these works as "quiet giants." One, at least, will interest anyone attuned to the music of Pärt and his compatriots who have, as Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau put it, "set forth a spiritual corrective to the rationalized avant-garde zeitgeist." Svete Tikhiy (O Gladsome Light), written in 1991 and dedicated to Giya Kancheli, is a three-movement work for soprano and sampler, with texts drawn from Russian Orthodox liturgy. The manipulation of soprano Tatiana Melentieva's voice with the sampler comes mostly in the 20-minute second movement, where human vocal timbres are fragmented into beats and harmonies. Structurally the movement offers a procession of fields of sound (the rather mystical liner notes refer to color associated with Orthodox iconography) not so different from other minimalist works, but the sampler adds a new twist that in 1991 was fairly innovative, especially in Russia. The other work, In Air Clear and Unseen (1994), is for piano and string quartet. Its three movements were inspired by poems of the Russian Romantic-era writer Fyodor Tyutchev; complete texts are supplied although the music contains no vocal part. The opening movement is for piano alone and the second movement for just the string quartet; the final movement brings all the forces together. The work eschews the traditional dialogue of the string quartet in favor of what the composer calls "chain breathing"; movements begin very quietly and shift slowly. The textures here seem less focused than in the sampler piece, but the effect is likewise unusual. ECM's sound, even working with recordings of diverse origin (Svete Tikhiy was recorded in St. Petersburg, In Air Clear and Unseen in Switzerland), is superb.

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