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NICOLAS KAVIANI: Te Deum; Tous Les Matins du Monde – Moravian Philharmonic Orch./Janacek Opera Choir/ Soloists/Petr Vronsky – Navona CD & DVD

Traditional religious text treated like a traditional setting of traditional religious text.

NICOLAS KAVIANI: Te Deum; Tous Les Matins du Monde – Moravian Philharmonic Orch./Janacek Opera Choir/soloists/Petr Vronsky – Navona NV6021 + DVD documentary (2 discs)  [Distr. by Parma] (7/08/16) 48:20 **1/2:

Nicolas Kavaiani, from the bio on a piano accompanist website, is a composer, pianist and accompanist and has over ten years of experience teaching piano, music theory and composition to students of all levels, styles and ages. He received his B.A. in Music Composition at UCSC and also studied at the Conservatoire de Musique in Avignon, France. Now, from some publicity materials for this new recording of his Te Deum: ”Nicolas Kaviani writes his modern day Te Deum (Navona CD plus documentary DVD) to praise the heavens in the fundamental manner that Western Civilization has done for many centuries past. In our modern age, however, the full creation is something we now know much more about than we previously believed. Yet it is still a mystery. The vastness and ineffable nature of boundless space as science has come to know it is the material entity Nicolas Kaviani sets out to praise in his half-hour work for orchestra.”

Well, all right. For me, I don’t know. I honestly was expecting something both very different and more… interesting. I have no doubt that Mr. Kaviani is both a really fine pianist as well as, I infer, a deeply religious man whose tastes run to the traditional. So, for me this is the problem. As a modern work; a contemporary setting of the Latin choral text, the purpose of which is to praise God, I envisioned several different ways of doing exactly this and in a voice or style that is somewhat unique.

Kaviani’s score – whether or not he intended – is written in a kind of Romantic idiom with the expectant purely solid diatonic progressions, four square vocal writing (which strays temporarily from the expected about half way through and provides something unusual) and plenty (a lot, actually) of Verdi-esque brass swells and percussion punctuations. This actually does happen a lot. Not that this is a bad thing except that many times the chorus is nearly drowned by the whole and some of the writing for the soloists seems to really stretch their range, uncomfortably, it sounds like in places.  The recording, done in St. Moritz Church, Olomouc, Czech Republic is lively – very much so to the point of collage in some spots.

The music itself sounds, generally, like it is from the same stylistic template as the famous iterations by Berlioz, Verdi, Dvorak and Bruckner. The issue is that if we place it in the “sound space” that it seems to come from; it simply does not stack up. It feels bloated and forced in places. It just is not a solid enough piece to compete with those similarly ‘majesty propelled’ masterworks and Kaviani’s style is not going to make us ignore some other American composers who excel at choral writing, such as Chris Theofanidis, Stephen Paulus, et al.

The Te Deum is followed by a very short (and much more “modern”) treatment of the Tous les Matins du Monde (All the Mornings of the World) for sixteen unaccompanied voices; text from the book about French composer/musician Marin Marais. This somewhat mournful work is more interesting than the Te Deum but also did not ignite my curiosity very much.

There is a documentary DVD which shows interviews with Nicolas Kaviani and his vision or intent. As I said, I cannot question his faith or fervor (as both the film as well as his album art countenance attests.)  I just did not care too much for this music. Others may find it powerful and moving.

—Daniel Coombs

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