WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Fratres; Symphony No. 3
PERFORMER: David James (countertenor); London Philharmonic/Franz Welser-Möst
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 55619 2 DDD
While the Estonian Arvo Pärt conjures bells and smells, the Georgian Giya Kancheli carves his structures in granite. Yet the latter’s Third Symphony (1973) starts with a reminiscence of folk melody, wafted on the breeze by David James’s unaccompanied countertenor, and it is this which forms the basis of the whole 23-minute single movement. Like everything I’ve heard by this composer, it’s take it or leave it music. Kancheli’s fundamental sound-blocks – whether insistently or ominously repetitive, ethereally melodic or atmospherically textural – are juxtaposed with a bizarre sense of timing; their bold dynamic contrasts cause the booklet notes to include a warning about damage to the listener’s equipment. The wordless voice returns after ten minutes and haunts proceedings to the end, though a tendency to the frenetic takes over for a while. There are even some bells. Kancheli’s music really demands to be heard live, and the Third Symphony doesn’t pack the punch of, say, his Seventh. But this performance gives the authentic flavour.
Pärt’s Third Symphony (1971) has the expected chants, chorales and medieval cadences. The totality is evidently the work of the composer of the later, ubiquitous Fratres – the concluding filler, in a version for string orchestra and percussion – yet oddly unsatisfactory: more like a curious exercise in different techniques than a real composition. All the performances here seem lovingly prepared and finely executed. Keith Potter