Knaifel: In Air Clear and Unseen; O gladsome light

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COMPOSERS: Knaifel
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: In Air Clear and Unseen; O gladsome light
PERFORMER: Oleg Malov (piano), Tatiana Melentieva (soprano), Andrei Siegle (sampler); Keller Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 461 814-2
If there is such a thing as a stereotypical ECM composer, then the Russian Alexander Knaifel (born in 1943) fits the role perfectly. In Knaifel’s music less is intended to convey much more; unadorned melodic lines, consonant chord progressions and a pervasive atmosphere of reverence carry the message, and it’s significant that the second work here, O gladsome light, a soprano setting of part of the vespers of the Russian Orthodox liturgy, is dedicated to Giya Kancheli, for Knaifel’s work (or these examples of it from the early Nineties at least) shares a great deal with Kancheli’s rapt simplicity and directness of gesture.

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In Air Clear and Unseen (1994) is a piano quintet of sorts based on a poem by Fyodor Tyutchev, except that the keyboard and the strings are only combined in the last of the three movements, and then in a kind of becalmed, scarcely interacting dialogue; it’s all deeply tranquil, and deliberately inconclusive. Knaifel clearly has a fondness for gently ebbing resonances: the piano uses plenty of sustaining pedal in In Air Clear, while O Gladsome Light surrounds the soprano with electronic images of herself and an array of other sampled sounds. It, too, moves slowly and hieratically, striving for a kind of impacted ecstasy that’s certainly not to my taste, but might well appeal to admirers of Tavener or Górecki. Andrew Clements