ECM New Series 1656 (465 138-2)
Not since Gorecki's Third Symphony ("Symphony of Sorrowful Songs") have I heard music so hauntingly sad. Subtitled "Music of mourning in memory of Luigi Nono," "Lament" probes the edges and innards of grief, with a generous node to late Romanticism. ("Music, like life itself, is inconceivable without romanticism," says Kancheli.) I've had the CD for nearly three months, trying to figure out why it's so compelling. As Alfred Schnittke said, "Inevitably we return to [Kancheli's music] to grasp what we failed to grasp the first time, to hear what we failed to hear the first time."
Like his earlier work "Caris Mere" (also featuring the soprano Maacha Deubner), Lament's structure is minimalist, like the way its pianissimo opening lulls the listener into a dirge-like trance. But unlike the shorter work, "Lament" guides us through multiple stages of grief. Kremer's violin and Deubner's voice are distant at first, almost detached, like the period before the shock (of death, I assume) has set in. The words of Hans Sahl's stark poem take us through the pianissimo moments: "Quite slowly I am walking out of time/into a future farther than any star." But when harsh triplets rain down like blows, the tenor of the piece changes. Unease and confusion quiver in the strings. Sometimes the music erupts in scalar torrents, subsiding only to erupt again. It doesn't matter that there is little logic or development in this piece. Thematically, it is a collection of random melodic elements tied to the soprano's elegy. At one point the music tenses like hands over a weeping face, then the brass fires a barrage of identical notes. It seems as if the piece is going to spring into action, like the first Allegretto of Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony. But it doesn't. It halts and Kremer's mournful violin joins Deubner again, winding through the elusive halls of grief. While this is not the piece to play if, say, you're hospitalized, you may find it cathartic in an odd sort of way. Sometimes its long lines and placid tempos are ideal for headphone listening at midnight in the dark. In its vocal sections, Kancheli's debt to medieval monophony is clear, however tempered with modernism. Most of the time the music is soothing, but it also contains those sudden jarring figures. Its direction is so unpredictable, you shouldn't expect a general soporific. As with Mahler's Ninth Symphony, the ending mysteriously trails off, implying there is no end to lamentation. It comes and goes, but never leaves us.
Like many ECM discs, the sound is excellent and the playing first rate, although the piece is short – forty-two minutes. The program notes pontificated lengthily about Kancheli's attraction to the poetry of Hans Sahl. Too bad they provide no information about Luigi Nono and why Kancheli laments his loss. (An Italian composer who died in 1990, Nono blended humanism with sophisticated avant-garde techniques.)
Classical Net, 2001
A powerful score from this increasingly popular figure in tribute to one of the second half of this century’s great musical experimentalists, Luigi Nono
Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich’s booklet-essay may strike some as pretentious: ‘The whisper of a folk-song fragment. It returns again and again. Fades away. Re-emerges. “Melody.“ Destructible. Indestructible. Chamber-musical, spare, fragile over long stretches. A solitary violin sings and refrains from singing.‘ Yet such is the suggestive power of Kancheli’s music, it virtually compels such responses. Music of lamentation has long been his preoccupation, and this Lament, inscribed to the memory of Luigi Nono, has all the familiar Kanchelian moods: damaged soulfulness, peremptory outbursts and transfigured sadness, invoked aphoristically yet stretched to a hypnotic unbroken 42-minute span. Initial dots of sound on the solo violin grow into painfully sweet bursts of melody, suggesting a context only the composer himself knows and which the listener has to grope towards. Meanwhile anon-vibrato singer intones prayerful fragments (‘Venite domine’, if I’m not mistaken). Kremer’s violin becomes an eloquent voice; Maacha Deubner’s soprano becomes a celestial instrument.
Just as you sense the need for new ideas, the orchestra’s sculpted orchestral chords gain a pulverizing force, and before long all hell breaks loose. The slight residual rawness of the Tbilisi brass is a treasurable authentic feature here, and the entire score is conducted faithfully by the man who knows Kancheli’s music better than any musician alive.
Eventually the text of Hans Sahl’s poem, Strophen (Verses) , reveals the underlying substance. No apologies for quoting it in full (my translation) : I am walking slowly out of the world/into a landscape beyond all distance,/and what I was, and am, and remain/goes with me, patiently and unhurried,/to an as yet untrodden land./I am walking slowly out of time/into a future beyond the stars,/and what I was, and am, and will ever remain/ goes with me, patiently and unhurried,/as though I had never been, or hardly.
I’m not sure why those simple words touch me so deeply, but I am grateful for them and for the music which clothes them so hauntingly. As usual from ECM, recording quality is first-rate.