GIYA KANCHELI: “Chiaroscuro” = Chiaroscuro; Twilight – Gidon Kremer, v./Patricia Kopatchinskaja, v./Kremerata Baltica/Gidon Kremer – ECM New Series

GIYA KANCHELI: “Chiaroscuro” = Chiaroscuro; Twilight – Gidon Kremer, v./Patricia Kopatchinskaja, v./Kremerata Baltica/Gidon Kremer – ECM New Series 2442ER092252, 47:36 [Distr. by Universal] (11/06/15) ****:

Georgian (Baltic) composer Giya Kancheli, now living in Antwerp, recently celebrated his eightieth birthday and this pensive release is in honor of that milestone. I have listened to some of Kancheli’s music over the years and it is known for being consistently dark, pensive and – occasionally – a bit mournful with strange bursts of loudness invading what is otherwise a fairly quiet, and restful soundscape. I like almost everything I have heard.

These two violin works are not only indicative of the composer’s usual sound but are among his best works, in my opinion. Violinist Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica have a long association with Kancheli and both of these works, presented here in their premiere recordings, were written for Kremer and his ensemble.

The opening Chiaroscuro takes its title from the Baroque painting technique which used stark contrasts between light and dark; in perfect analogy to Kancheli’s trademark sound. In between the bursts of color and volume are long stretches of quiet melancholy. Kancheli describes a sense of frustration with the social and political conditions in the world in his comments and admits his tendency to express these observations on the “imperfection of society” in music. The tone of this overtly dark and somewhat mournful work does not detract from its overall beauty.

Twilight is a work for two violins and chamber orchestra written for the Kremerata Baltica to be premiered at the annual Mozart festival in Salzburg. Kremer is joined in this similarly lovely piece by violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja. She is a frequent collaborator with Kremer, something of a protégé and a wonderful performer, herself. This particular work was also written at a time when the composer had a sense of his own mortality, perhaps, recovering from illness and reflecting on the changes he saw in the poplar trees outside of his recovery room. While that description certainly evokes a nearly relentlessly depressing tone, this work has long, extended moments of great beauty and – as the publicity notes imply – a sense of transformation, not resignation. It is an altogether lovely work which was also dedicated to a married couple; friends of the composer’s who helped him through his own dark times.

Giya Kancheli is a truly unique composer and one cannot help but agree with his own assessment that his music (and his very reserved personality, by his own admission) will probably never “find a wide audience.” He is in fact not widely known nor played, especially outside Europe. I like his work; what I have heard and yet I agree with Kancheli’s own observation that not all will. I concur with his own observations that listeners, hopefully, when hearing any of his music – including the present – will “not identify its deliberate simplicity with … indifference.”   Indeed.

—Daniel Coombs

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