Kancheli: Symphony No. 2 (Chants); Symphony No. 7 (Epilogue)

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COMPOSERS: Kancheli
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (Chants); Symphony No. 7 (Epilogue)
PERFORMER: Berlin RSO/Michail Jurowski
CATALOGUE NO: 999 263-2 DDD
Georgian composer Giya Kancheli wrote seven symphonies between 1967 and 1986, all sharing an organic one-movement form. If his work has been in danger of losing its identity amid the tide of spiritually motivated music to come out of the ex-Soviet Union in recent years, these persuasive performances will set the record straight. Both are distinctly Russian in character: grave, ritualistic, shot through with religious symbols – pealing of bells and fragments of Georgian ‘church songs’ – long paragraphs punctuated by crude blasts, in the manner of Schnittke or Ustvolskaya, and brief flashes of caustic vulgarity – sudden jazz ‘wowing’ in the brass or a sinister quoting of a Bach invention.

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The Second rises gradually from an ascending four-note scale, richly suspended across the brass. Kancheli’s control of its sustained, circular development is extraordinary, moving from a gargantuan anticipation of the melody with its wistful, downturned coda to bright, dancing Stravinskian ostinatos in the wind and back again. The longer Seventh Symphony is conceived on a more conventional and grandiose scale. Suffused with Georgian folksong, its powerful rhetoric and hefty orchestration hark back to the world of Shostakovich, though veiled in a prayerful introspection peculiar to Kancheli. The tremendous brass sound of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, particularly the horns, ennobles both performances. Helen Wallace