Kancheli: Magnum ignotum; Simi

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COMPOSERS: Kancheli
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Magnum ignotum; Simi
PERFORMER: Mstislav Rostropovich (cello); Royal Flanders PO/Jansug Kakhidze
CATALOGUE NO: 462 713-2
Kancheli has sometimes been lumped together with Tavener and Pärt under the ‘holy minimalist’ label, but there’s something much more disconcerting about his music. It’s to do with the frequent pauses between musical gestures; the sudden unexplained climaxes which vanish almost as soon as they arrive; a relentless tick-tock pulse which returns obsessively; passages which sound like a child’s music box heard in a dream. It could all add up to something incredibly banal, but to my ears it has a sinister beauty which is utterly involving. Though the style is tonal, it reminds me of the music of Morton Feldman, where you are on the edge of your seat because there’s simply no way of knowing what’s going to happen next. And, as in Feldman, the performers have to take great care that the music somehow sounds during the pauses, and that things don’t get disjointed. There’s no danger of that from Kakhidze, who has championed Kancheli since the Fifties, and Rostropovich, for whom Simi was written, and who turns in a performance of understated eloquence. Magnum ignotum is a starker piece, for wind and double bass, with three short pre-recorded overlays of traditional Georgian music – disconcerting at first hearing, but making clear Kancheli’s roots in his country’s culture.

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