Recorded January 2001
Mozart-Saal / Liederhalle Stuttgart
for violoncello, countertenor and orchestra (1997)
- Valse Boston
for piano and strings (1996)
(To my wife with whom I've never danced)
After his immigration to the west in 1991, Giya Kancheli abandoned the expansive, symphonic approach he had cultivated during his years in Georgia, and opted instead to compose music for smaller, more manageable ensembles. The works on this ECM New Series disc reflect Kancheli's changed course and his simplified, if still wide-ranging, palette. Diplipito is a cryptic term, coined by poet Joseph Brodsky to mean "my work of silence, my mute creation," and Kancheli uses it to suggest a neutral state between expression and meaninglessness, implied in the singer's indistinguishable words and the cello's vaguely articulated lines. Cellist Thomas Demenga and countertenor Derek Lee Ragin perform their interwoven parts with ethereal detachment, while behind them the orchestra wafts between fragile, atonal gestures and towering crashes of near-tonal certitude. Valse Boston, for piano and string orchestra, is a surrealistic tableau of nostalgic melodies and blurred harmonies that are increasingly disrupted by violent clusters and strident tutti; these savage interruptions turn the piece's atmospheric dream into a harsh and painful nightmare. The Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, renders these enigmatic works with a mixture of high theatricality and hushed mystery, and ECM's engineering captures Kancheli's extremely broad dynamic range, from pppp to ffff.
"If you can imagine a flower that makes its way through asphalt, that's exactly what you find in my compositions. In my works I'm always trying to get the flower through the asphalt."
Four years have passed since the release of Giya Kancheli's "Magnum Ignotum", an absence addressed with the release of two albums by the Georgian composer in 2004. The present disc, with Thomas Demenga, Derek Lee Ragin, Dennis Russell Davies and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, is the first of them. It features premiere recordings made - as has been the case with all of Kancheli's ECM recordings - with the participation of the composer. "Valse Boston", written in 1996, bears two dedications, one to its conductor and pianist Dennis Russell Davies, the other to the composer's wife ("with whom I have never danced"). If Kancheli has made a point of avoiding the dancefloor he has created a piece that moves uniquely, if not in ? time, and makes sometimes devastating use of the abrupt dynamic contrasts that have become almost a trademark. Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich in the liner notes:
"The metaphor of 'dancing' should be interpreted less as a profound than as an ironic comment - but it is also an allusion to the vast distance that separates Kancheli's music from the apotheosis or demonic fury of the dance. The Boston Waltz is generally associated with the louche, slightly faded realm of urbane entertainment; for Kancheli this is at most a 'distant echo' buried beneath the rubble of the ages." Kancheli has, however, said that he was inspired, in writing this piece, by the visual image of Davies conducting this piece from the piano stool, half standing, gesturing with a free arm or nods of the head while playing; this was also a dance of sorts. Jungheinrich: "Three-quarter time is never used as the vehicle, elixir and essence of dance-like energy. What does occur at the beginning is a slow triplet movement; but instead of introducing spirited movement, the consistently gentle sonorities retain a heavy, clinging, glutinous quality. The first violins seem to want to counter the persistent, grinding slowness of the tempo with their own abandoned song, a mercurial line in the highest register."
Davies and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra have included "Valse Boston" in their touring programmes on both sides of the Atlantic. The Chicago Tribune wrote, "Don't let the innocuous title fool you: Giya Kancheli's 'Valse Boston' is a powder keg of a piece. It is a secular prayer veering between extremes of dynamics, tempo and mood. One moment the piano is goading the strings to produce angry, stabbing dissonances. The next moment, it is quieting the orchestra with tiny fragments of waltz-time, deceptively merry. Nobody conjures troubled landscapes in sound like Kancheli. He has given us a bleak, very Eastern view of modern existence, but the effect is cleansing."
"Diplipito, written in 1997, is named for the little, high-tuned Georgian drums - in the range of the darbouka or the bongos - that are frequently used to accompany dancing. And the percussive syllables that Kancheli gives to American countertenor Derek Lee Ragin are a kind of concrete poetry inspired by the drum's rhythm patterns. Giya Kancheli was greatly impressed by Ragin in 1999 when he sang the world premiere of the composer's "And farewell goes out sighing", alongside Gidon Kremer with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Kurt Masur and the countertenor was an essential choice for the recording of "Diplipito", where he is partnered with Thomas Demenga. Ragin makes his New Series debut here while Demenga has been a mainstay of the label since its inauguration.
Jungheinrich: "The vocal part in 'Diplipito' finds an equal partner in the solo cello. The orchestra rarely play tutti, there are no winds or brass at all, and the guitar, piano and percussion come in individually, functioning alternately as solo and secondary presences. The terse, tentative figures in the cello contrast with the cluster-like chords typifying the piano line. For long stretches, the sonic space is chromatically measured - often in small, careful interval steps…. The mood of tranquillity, even latent immobility, that dominates the first half of the piece is suspended by the entry of a vigorous ornamental figure on the guitar (which is immediately picked up by the cello), followed by several explosive fortissimo passages. The soft murmur of a bongo rhythm increases the restlessness. This is the preparation for the final phase, the disembodiment of sonic materiality."
All Music Guide