Giya Kancheli: Chiaroscuro

Patricia Kopatchinskaja / Gidon Kremer / Kremerata Baltica

(CD - ECM New Series #4811784)

Review by James Manheim

Georgian-born composer Giya Kancheli, who has lived for some years in Antwerp, has been championed by various Western conductors and ensembles, but the glassy sounds of Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica seem to fit his music especially well, above all when captured by the ECM label's Manfred Eicher and his superlative engineering team. The two works here, although composed in Kancheli's great old age, are fully representative of his style, and the album can be recommended to anyone curious about this composer. Rodion Shchedrin once said that Kancheli was "an ascetic with the temperament of a maximalist": Kancheli writes nostalgic slow melodies punctuated by stretches of minimal string harmonies (or lightly dissonant passages that do not resolve to anything; "tonal" is the wrong word for his music) and occasional violent eruptions led by percussion. They are like soundtracks (of which Kancheli has written several dozen) to some unseen film. The wrinkle here (and again, one that is very soundtrack-like) is the presence of solo instruments in both works, neither of which is remotely a "concerto." The title work was originally composed for a single soloist playing both violin and viola; it also exists in a string quartet version and has been remade here by Kremer for violin only with chamber orchestra, and Kancheli writes in the highly evocative notes that "the true author of Chiaroscuro is Gidon Kremer, and I myself feel like a grateful co-author." Chiaroscuro, as the title suggests, is a study in shading, and the violin offers a sort of recurring color motif. The somewhat longer Twilight, like the slow movement of Beethoven's String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132, is a work of convalescence. It features two violinists, Kremer and Patricia Kopatchinskaja, and the orchestra includes a subtle synthesizer part. Kancheli writes that the work evokes a specific twilight seen from his work space in Antwerp, with light poking intermittently through a row of poplar trees; it is this effect that the pair of violins suggests here, with considerable subtlety despite the overall simplicity of language. Whatever you think of Kancheli, and he has at times rubbed traditionalists, modernists, and minimalists the wrong way, this is an admirable meeting of performers and material.

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