Knaifel: Amicta sole; Psalm 51

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COMPOSERS: Knaifel
LABELS: ECM
ALBUM TITLE: Knaifel
WORKS: Amicta sole; Psalm 51
PERFORMER: Rostropovich, Tatiana Melentieva, Glinka Choral College, State Hermitage Orchestra, Arkady Shteinlukht
CATALOGUE NO: 472 9832
Alexander Knaifel (b1943) was a pupil of Rostropovich’s before a hand injury ended his budding career as a cellist. His erstwhile teacher has been a staunch champion of his work as a composer, though for most listeners his music requires something of an act of faith – not simply because of its religious subtext. Certainly the first five minutes or so of his solo cello work, Psalm 51 (50), offers little to hook doubting Thomases: its material could hardly be simpler, its plainchant-style phrases slowly rising and falling initially upon sections of a D major scale. So leisurely is the music’s progress that one eventually forgets about the notes and becomes more aware of the ‘floated’ quality of Rostropovich’s tone in the treble register of his instrument. Gradually the tessitura rises, and the tonality modulates; the sudden plunge to tenor register appears a major event. By the end of the work’s 20 minutes, the music has visited darker regions – both tonally and emotionally – in the bass register before finally rising into ethereal regions where the cello’s tone becomes a high wheezing whistle and evaporates.

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Amicta sole (Clothed with the sun), scored for soprano soloist, boys’ voices and a sparingly used orchestra of strings (including harp) and woodwind (including treble recorders), is again a slow-moving work, best appreciated by surrendering to its simple yet atmospheric effects, though one may doubt it is quite as substantial as the Psalm. Daniel Jaffé