Alexander Knaifel: Blazhenstva

Ivan Monighetti, Tatiana Melentieva, Piotr Migunov, State Hermitage Orchestra, Lege Artis Choir

Following on from the critically-acclaimed “Amicta Sole” album, Russian composer Alexander Knaifel presents two strikingly different compositions, inspirationally linked through the figure of Mstislav Rostropovich. Knaifel’s background as a cellist is put to good service in the 18 minute Lamento for solo cello (written 1967, revised 1987). The scope of the instrument’s expressive potential is brought into play from the first furious sounds. Monighetti, who was Rostropovich’s last student at the Moscow Conservatory, rises to the work’s dynamic challenges. “Blazhenstva” in contrast is a radiant meditation on the Sermon on the Mount, for soloists, orchestra and choir, written as a 70th birthday present for Rostropovich in 1996. Monighetti here has a triple role – as pianist, cellist and conductor.

Featured Artists Recorded

March 2006

Original Release Date


  • 1Lamento for violoncello solo (1967, rev. 1987)
    (Alexander Knaifel)
  • 2Blazhenstva (The Beatitudes) for soloists, orchestra and choir (1996)
    (Alexander Knaifel)
„Benediction” might well characterise Blazhenstva, a setting of the Beatitudes written for the 70th birthday of Rostropovich… What is certain is the consistency of its evolution – from an opening section in which soprano and bass are accompanied by sparse piano chords, through one of slowly descending string harmonies and another where the choir expounds the text over undulating string chords, to a final section where the cello is gradually left alone in musing introspection. Whether Blazhenstva is music to be experienced once rather than to be heard repeatedly is for each listener to decide, though the quality of performance and recording make the experience an involving one.
Richard Whitehouse, Gramophone
Lamento for solo cello begins with soloist Ivan Monighetti tearing a hole in the surrounding silence. Carving out a series of jarring double-stopped chords, this staccato assault on the instrument sounds more protestation than lament. The toccata-like writing of the opening gives way to a central section that consists of glacial harmonics and sul ponticello murmurings, out of which emerges a haunting, five-note melodic motif of beguiling simplicity. …
Dedicated to Rostropovich on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, the disc’s title track dates from 1996. … Constructed from the most basic materials – quietly tolling chords in the piano, the unadorned luminosity of soprano and bass voices – the entire raison d’être of this impossibly gentle, unhurried work appears to be to dissever the listener from the terrestrial plane. Like the Pärt of Für Alina or the Silvestrov of Silent Songs, Blazhenstva possesses a crystalline beauty and hypnotic power.
Peter Quinn, International Record Review
Vereinzelte Klaviertöne, manchmal Zwei-, kaum Dreiklänge, unterbrochen von langgezogenen engintervalligen ein- oder zweistimmigen Gesangsbögen. Alexander Knaifel braucht nicht viel, um seine Musik zu schreiben. Sie baut sich in Orchester und Chor zu einer großen dynamischen Kurve auf, deren Schwingungen langsam verebben bis in letzte, leise Töne des Cellos hinein. Mit dem einsätzigen „Blazhenstva“ hat Knaifel die Seligpreisungen der Bergpredigt vertont. Ein Wegzeichen des Trostes.
Tilman Urbach, Fono Forum
No other composer from today’s Russia has embraced mysticism in such a rigorous way as Knaifel…He is, without any doubt, one of the most fascinating and challenging artistic figures in modern Russia. Tatjana Rexroth, MusikTexte, Germany

The third ECM album pioneering Alexander Knaifel’s highly personal œuvre after “Amicta Sole” and “Svete Tikhiy” (released in 2003 and 2005, respectively) offers an important addition to the label's wide-ranging spectrum of Post-Soviet music. Two starkly contrasting yet spiritually interrelated compositions – both of them, according to Knaifel, following the same path and forming a "united way" – are presented in exemplary interpretations from some of his long-standing collaborators, especially from cellist and conductor Ivan Monighetti. "In my opinion this recording is one of the best ones we ever did", says the composer who took part in all production stages.

While the heavy chords in “Lamento” for solo cello tend to evoke an almost orchestral density of sound, the subtle sonic hues of “Blazhenstva” for soloists, orchestra and choir often verge to silence. The 18-minute cello piece, a central example of Knaifel’s expressive early style, depicts an impressive development from vehement rage to almost transcendent tranquillity. Towards the end, the (male) player is asked to sing with closed mouth in the cello register. “Lamento” was written in 1967 when the composer, originally a cellist himself, was still studying in Leningrad. It was revised twenty years later and dedicated to the memory of the influential Russian choreographer Leonid Jakobson who had died in 1975.

“Blazhenstva” was composed in 1996 and is dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich, Knaifel’s former teacher and mentor. Representative of Knaifel’s mature style it is a very sparse and completely quiet score of 37 minutes in slow tempo throughout. Relinquishing all ornamental elements it creates an incomparable sonic space of almost narcotic intensity. The biblical verse from the Sermon on the Mount (Gospel of St. Matthew) in Russian language are set for solo voices and different choral groups and enhanced by extensive string interludes. “Feasible comprehension of these immeasurable words seemed to me the best gift to the 70th anniversary of the great musician and great person Mstislav Rostropovich”, writes Knaifel in a short note for the present recording.