GIYA KANCHELI Caris Mere

I waxed lyrical, or tried to, about Kancheli’s Morning Prayers and Evening Prayers in April 1995. But I can’t compete with Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich’s booklet-essay for ECM’s companion disc containing the other two Prayers in the cycle. He claims a post-avant-garde historical significance for Kancheli which some may find hyperbolic, and which surely reads more into the music than the composer himself intended. Yet the high-flown imagery is not inappropriate: “In such trackless terrain, history seems to be arrested and sedimented in remembered traces of lost beauty, bygone battles, shattered happiness, and spent suffering... Like the Eskimos whose life experience has led to some three dozen linguistic descriptions of the all-pervasive white of their environment, Kancheli’s mournful expressivity gleans untold variations and nuances from the ‘white’ of his tonal environment.” That’s all well said, and though I can’t share the author’s apparent conviction that Kancheli’s recent work has the expressive power and innovative boldness of his remarkable symphonies from the 1970s, the new disc will certainly appeal to those who have already caught the Kancheli ‘bug’.
Midday Prayers and Night Prayers complete the cycle somewhat cryptically entitled A Life without Christmas. They are meditations on snatches of biblical text, as is the solo viola piece Caris Mere (Georgian for “After the Wind”). Night Prayers was originally composed for string quartet (are the Kronos Quartet, to whom it was dedicated, getting round to a recording?), and to my ears the revised arrangement, superimposing soprano saxophone, doesn’t sound entirely convincing. This may come as a disappointment to those expecting Jan Garbarek to emulate his wonderful collaboration with the Hilliard Ensemble on “Officium” (ECM, 10/94).
In Midday Prayers Kancheli’s familiar polarized extremes of near-hibernation and manic activity are faithfully captured by performers and engineers. So too, unfortunately, is a certain amount of traffic noise, which rather breaks the spell in passages of extreme hush. Kim Kashkashian plays her short solo piece to the manner born.
Not a top priority issue, then, but one which makes a valuable addition to the discography of a distinctive voice in contemporary music.' (Gramophone)

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