Knaifel: Chapter Eight

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LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Chapter Eight
PERFORMER: Mstislav Rostropovich (cello) Various choirs/Norman Scribner
CATALOGUE NO: 0630-10160-2
Here are two English-speaking groups attempting successfully to get inside the mysticism of Russian Orthodoxy. Both booklets seek to stress the genuineness of their spirituality: Stephen Layton says that the Holst Singers concerts, on which these recordings are based, were ‘conceived as a contemplative prayer’; Knaifel (b1943) sees his former teacher, the cellist Rostropovich, as making a Christ-like ‘manifestation of sacrificial, self-crucifying love’ in renouncing a virtuoso role.


On the Teldec CD cover Chapter Eight’s prefatory words ‘Kiss me, make me drunk with your kisses!’ are writ large. This may mislead the prospective buyer, who must bear in mind that it is the biblical Song of Songs that Knaifel is setting, and that this book, however sensual, can be given a purely spiritual interpretation – hence this dark, dirge-like piece with the occasional shaft of light from the upper voices and stray sustained notes and harmonics from Rostropovich, in his sacrificial role. This trance-like music is for lying down to in a darkened room.


The Holst Singers, too, entered seriously into their chosen, mostly Russian, repertoire, the men even, we are told, growing long, grey beards. The choir’s ensemble work is excellent, however many parts the rich texture is divided into, and intonation is so spot on that the consonances throb. Two works are premiered: the appropriately luminous Radiant Light by Victor, brother of Vasily Kalinnikov, and Knut Nystedt’s Immortal Bach, hypnotically effective. Janet Banks