Sometimes classical recording projects can be an adventure in themselves, the result of dogged flatfooting and good, old-fashioned detective work. In Profil's Shavlego: Guitar Music by Georgian Composers, guitarist Oleg Timofeyev, whose previous endeavors have included helping to revive the seven-string Russian guitar, shares the findings from his efforts in locating classical guitar music written by composers from Georgia, one-time protectorate under Czarist Russia, then briefly a nation, then a Soviet state, and finally a nation after all. Georgia's investment into cultural activity stretches back into pre-history through their cave paintings and contact with the Greek and Roman worlds; their art and architecture flourished in the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries, after which their territory was subject to constant harassment from outside; first Mongols, then Persians and Turks. While Russia took her under its wing toward the end of the eighteenth century, there is nothing particularly "Russian" about Georgian culture; it is still rooted in the Georgian Renaissance of medieval times and has its own identity.
While some measure of recognition has come to Georgia's art and architecture as constituting treasures of worldwide value, her music is much more difficult to assess. The music of only one historical Georgian classical composer, Héraclius Djabadary (1891-1934), has seen any recognition outside of Georgia, with Giya Kancheli being the only other name that has gained traction in the contemporary realm.
Timofeyev's journey began in the ex-Soviet Union libraries, looking not for Georgian music specifically but for seven-string guitar literature in Soviet editions. Happening upon a handful of outstanding pieces for the seven-string guitar by Georgian Niko Narimanidze (1904-1975), but not enough to constitute an album's length, Timofeyev dug a little deeper and discovered Georgian composer Gherman Dzhaparidze and through him the other composers represented on Shavlego: Tengiz Shavlokhashvili and Vazha Kalandadze.
Does what Timofeyev stumbled upon constitute a previously unrecognized "school" in the Western sense? Not exactly -- of this group, only Kalandadze is a guitarist, and the other composers mainly write instrumental music of other kinds. However, the voice of the guitar, and in particular Timofeyev's expert playing of these colorful and intriguing pieces, proves an excellent entry point into the music of Georgia. It bears no trace of Russian-ness; and pieces such as the lovely Ballad of Tengiz Shavlokhashvili hearken back to Georgia's medieval heritage in its melodic shape and sound. The Dzhaparidze Guitar Sonata, with its strong pictorial elements including the charming "Gnomes March" and openness to unusual techniques, is a work worthy to join the repertoire of classical guitarists. These Georgian composers are not competing with the international scene in terms of techniques or novelty; the intellectual elite in Georgia even during the brief period of independence of World War I was made up of a unique set of individual thinkers, their aims conditioned with concerns of national identity, tradition, and cultural mission. It is the indissoluble strength of the Georgian character that Timofeyev has uncovered in the wake of his findings; Shavlego: Guitar Music by Georgian Composers provides an excellent window into the engrossing life of this Christian nation that borders the Black Sea.