The very notion of an “album” seems obsolete, if not quaint. I’m not sure what that makes a “daring chamber music album”! The superstar Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer and his colleagues in Kremerata Baltica have made one, an album that is more than the sum of its disparate parts, a program with two mournful eastern European works for string orchestra framing the intense Cesar Franck piano trio in F minor (1879). Placing it between two 21st-century compositions seems to me to emphasize the slow inner movement of the quintet. Instead of the usual fast-slow-fast in tempo sonata form, the album is slow-fast-slow-fast-slow, a bigger structure that it not only centered but framed by plaintive movements.
Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer, born in 1963 in what was Yugoslavia in 1963, of Hungarian descent and now residing in France, is a pianist and composer who has collaborated with rock musicians as well as classical ones. Tickmayer began his “Eight Hymns” in December 1986, on learning of the death of his favorite filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-86), and revised it in collaboration with the young musicians of the Kremerata Baltica. Though the hymns are miniatures, these soundscapes proceed at the leisurely pace of Tarkovsky movies such as “Solaris.” The mournful music is sometimes dissonant and includes vibraphone and piano with strings. Rock beats also sometimes crop up, breaking up the serenity to which they hymns otherwise drift.
The Franck piano trio in F minor is one of the most intense 19th-century chamber compositions (in there with the Schubert piano trio, the Mendlesohnn octet, and Brahms piano quintet). Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili (born in 1987) plays very impressively in it. As I’ve said, the middle movements, which is marked “Lento, con molto sentimento” shares an ambience with the 21st-century compositions before and after the trio on the album, though the smaller ensemble sounds lusher as well as more driven than the larger (post)modernist ones.
Gidon Kremer and Giya Kancheli (born in 1935 in Tibilisi, Georgia; now resident in Antwerp) have a long association including three previous recordings. Kancheli was writing a piece to celebrate the 80th birthday of Mstislav Rostropovich and 60th Kancheli may have been planning festive music, but wrote music, titled “Silent Prayers” that is quite high in the registers of the string instruments. There is also worldless vocalization (à la Paart or Gorecki) that I can imagine fitting in a Tarkovsky film (it does not evoke Rostropovich for me, however).
The liner notes explain the album’s logic as a “combination [that] does more than provide a superficial contrast: it is beholden to an intrinsic principle of the spirit [wow!] that the painter Paul Klee developed in his theory of harmony in the visual arts: any compositional harmony will gain character through dissonances with the balance being restored by counterweights.” I’m not completely convinced that this holds for the album, but it definitely applies well to Tickmayer’s “Eight Hymns.”
The ECM recording engineering matches the players in clarity, making for an outstanding if unusual album.
Tracks and Timings
Tickmayer: Eight Hymns – in Memoriam Andrei Tarkovsky (1986/2004) 11:53
Franck: Piano Quintet in F minor –
I. Molt moderato quasi lento.Allegro 15:56
II. Lento,con molt sentimento 10:46
III. Allegro non troppo,ma con fuoco 8:47
Kancheli: Silent Player (2007) 26:38
Total: 72 minutes