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Alexander Knaifel: Svete Tikhiy

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Song TitleArtist Time Price
  1. I. In Some Exhausted ReverieOleg Malov & Keller Quartett 9:43Album Only
  2. II. An Autumn EveningOleg Malov & Keller Quartett 7:11Album Only
  3. III. In Air Clear and UnseenOleg Malov & Keller Quartett 6:32£0.99  Buy MP3 
  4. I. Ringing of the Church BellsTatiana Melentieva & Andrei Siegle0:47£0.99  Buy MP3 
  5. II. The Song of the Most Holy TheotokosTatiana Melentieva & Andrei Siegle20:28Album Only
  6. III. Svete TikhiyTatiana Melentieva & Andrei Siegle 6:57£0.99  Buy MP3 

Product Description

ECM's documentation of outstanding music from the former Soviet Union continues with the first of several albums from the Uzbekistan-born/St Petersburg-based composer, Alexander Knaifel (b.1943). This recording - featuring the distinguished Keller Quartett with pianist Oleg Malov, and the voice of Tatiana Melentieva processed by Andrei Siegle - brings together important new developments and impulses in Knaifel's music.

Originally a cellist, Knaifel studied with Rostropovich and Fischmann, and has an obvious affinity for string writing. In In Air Clean and Unseen (1994), inspired by verses of 19th century Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev, strings and piano seem to "sing" together, uniquely. The Keller Quartet play with the same intense conviction and imagination they brought to their prize-winning ECM recordings of string music of Kurtág and Bach's "Die Kunst der Fuge".

The title piece Svete Tikhiy (O Gladsome Light), one of a series of Knaifel's works from the 1990s based upon canonical texts of the Russian Orthodox church service, is dedicated to his close friend Giya Kancheli. As with Kancheli, much of Knaifel's music is motivated by a non-denominational religious feeling. Born into a Jewish family, attracted by the Orthodox church but also by Buddhism, Knaifel aims to convey something of the heart of faith by "speaking in a low voice, hoping to hear a voice within oneself." Many of his pieces share a "meditative" character that will delight listeners of Arvo Pärt or John Tavener. In Svete Tikhiy, Tatiana Melentieva delivers an extraordinary, almost hypnotic vocal performance, which Knaifel describes as "radiant, touching, heart-dilating".

In preparation are ECM recordings of Knaifel's choral music and Amicta Sole/Psalm 51 with Mstislav Rostropovich, St Petersburg Hermitage Orchestra and Lege Artis Chamber Choir. ECM previously recorded Knaifel's, 'Lux Aeterna', in 1999 by cellists Thomas and Patrick Demenga - to critical acclaim. Classic CD: "Knaifel's piece has the simplicity and stillness of Arvo Pärt, displaying a rapt religious intensity".

Recorded 1997 and 2000

Keller Quartett: András Keller, János Pilz - (violin), Zoltán Gál - (viola), Judit Szabó - (violoncello), Oleg Malov - (piano), Tatiana Melentieva - (soprano), Andrei Siegle - (sampler)

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Amazon.com: 2 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Music of great beauty, if a bit overlong 13 Sept. 2006
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This ECM disc features two works by Russian composer Alexander Knaifel, who like his former Soviet compatriots Gubaidulina and Part has set off on an overtly Orthodox path in his mature career. Knaifel's music is purely in the avant-garde tradition with its innovations of form and conception of silence as an functional part of a piece, but his music features a strong basis on triadic harmony and cathedral-like atmospherics that make the music here accessible for all. The Keller Quartet and pianist Oleg Malov perform on the first piece, while the second features soprano Tatiana Melentieva and technician Andrei Siegle.

"In Air Clean and Unseen" for piano and string quartet (1994) is divided into three movements. The first consists of sparse, pointillistic piano with the tiniest touch of strings, and the second features only strings. One would expect the two to finally meet in some bold way in the last, but no such thing occurs. Instead, the piano again takes the dominant role, and the strings again hide in the background. Knaifel's interest here seems to be pure sound instead of the clever interaction of parts.

In the second piece featured here, however, the interaction of voices is the basis of all. "Svete Tikhiy" for soprano and sequencer ("O Gladsome Light", 1991) is a way to realize perfectly a choral work of such complexity that it would hardly be feasible for a live choir. Its first two parts are based on the Orthodox prayer to the Theotokos ("Birth-giver of God", an epithet of the Virgin Mary). In the first, a single soprano voice sings the prayer with wide leaps, while a second soprano voice is altered such that it gives almost an instrumental accompaniment to the first. Only fifty seconds long, it forms a brief prelude to the stunning second movement. Here myriad voices are woven in a bubbling polyphony vaguely like the "Kyrie" from Ligeti's "Requiem" (but profound instead of grim), before all dropping out halfway through to be replaced by a gentle and subtle solo line surrounded by instrumental effects. The last movement is a setting of "O Gladsome Light", the oldest Christian hymn. First mentioned by Justin Martyr circa AD 150, the hymn was already so old that no one remembered who wrote it, and it continues to be sung at every Vespers service. In its liturgical setting, the hymn is usually sung boldly and with joy, but here the solo soprano is quiet, occasionally almost overwhelmed by instrumental effects. All in all, "Svete Tikhiy" is one of the oddest-sounding pieces I've ever heard, but it is still greatly fascinating and entertaining.

My only complaint about these works is that they are overlong. I've never been partial to Morton Feldman-like conceptions of length (Knaifel has rivaled the late master with three- or four-hour long pieces). While on the very first hearing the listener is simply dazzled by the crystalline beauty of the piano quintet and the heavenly interaction of parts in the "Svete Tikhiy". Still, for those who like Part or Gubaidulina, Knaifel's music may very well be worth hearing, and it is always enchanting to hear Orthodox composers join the avant-garde tradition to their faith, one always sensitive of beauty.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
One Good, One Bad 27 Mar. 2014
By Ben Abraham - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
What's with Manfred Eicher?

The mastermind of ECM Records released three CD's of Knaifel's music, each of which contain two compositions. The problem is, on each of the three CDs, one composition is an interesting, quiet, solemn, peaceful piece, and the other is something you'll never want to hear again.

On this CD, the good and peaceful piece is In Air Clean and Unseen, for piano and string quartet. It's quiet, static, sometimes arbitrary sounding, sometimes sounding like mere ambience. Sometimes it reminds me of Morton Feldman, but it has an intensity and a European mornfulness that I don't associate with Feldman.

The piece you'll never want to hear again is Svete Tikhiy. This piece sounds less like a musical composition and more like a soprano monkeying around late at night with a sequencer and multi-tracker.

I wonder; did Knaifel write more good pieces? If he did, why didn't Manfred Eicher give us two good pieces on each CD instead of one good and one bad? I know, I know... de gustibus non est distputandum (there's no disputing taste)... but... come on, Manfred!
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