"Kancheli views the composer's work as a sacrament," observed Fanfare in a review of last year's Exil (ECM New Series 1535). "It is absolutely clear that he is trying to invest every sound with an absolute beauty and expressiveness. He is also insistent that his music express only what is necessary, that egotistic virtuosity for performers is off limits, just as he forbids himself to show off compositional technique - which is not to imply the music is simplistic or easy to perform; it obviously demands enormous concentration and control to project its long formal line. In an era when there seems to be a desperate collective rush to rival the power of media-driven mass culture in the 'high' arts, Kancheli stands as an example of an artist who remains committed to deeply personal, spiritual, and potentially painful experience..." The evaluation is equally relevant for the Georgian composer's fourth album for the New Series: "Whatever their titles," Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich affirms in his liner notes to the present recording, "Giya Kancheli's recent compositions for chamber ensemble are 'prayers', invocations that rise up 'out of a deep need' and a damaged existence." Midday Prayers and Night Prayers on the present disc complete the cycle Life without Christmas, two sections of which - Morning Prayers and Evening Prayers - were heard on Abii Ne Viderem (ECM New Series 1510), released in 1995.The cycle itself grew almost organically from 1988, when Kancheli was commissioned to write for chamber orchestra by the Almeida Festival, the outcome of this commission being Morning Prayers. It was not until clarinettist Eduard Brunner asked for a piece the following year that the composer conceived the notion of a linked series of (non-denominational) "prayers". Night Prayers was added to the cycle in the early 90s, originally written for string quartet but revised and extended at Manfred Eicher's suggestion for chamber orchestra - Kancheli expressed relief at returning to the larger instrumental forces he prefers - with the addition of Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek as soloist.Before Officium, Garbarek's album with the Hilliard Ensemble, was released, the producer sent a session tape to Giya Kancheli who was (as he wrote in a letter in March '94) "stunned" by the music. Initially reluctant to write parts for a player he recognised as an improvisor who "creates something his own...he does it very subtly, exactly and with special feeling of tact", Kancheli eventually, and in response to Garbarek's pleas for guidance, arrived at a detailed score for soprano saxophone that allows for a three minute improvisation two-thirds of the way into the work. Night Prayers, then, stands as a departure for both composer and player. Garbarek, whose role on Officium had been entirely improvisational, is confronted, really for the first time, with notated contemporary music while Kancheli, for his part, permits the soloist considerably more interpretive leeway than is the norm in his pieces.
The return of the taped voice of the young Vasiko Tevdorashvili - first heard on Morning Prayers - signals the completion of the prayer-cycle. Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich: "The 'otherworldliness' of this voice is set off against the solo saxophone, which expresses the many registers of painful intensity embodied in vehement grief and lamentation..." The revised version of Night Prayers, with Garbarek and the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester under Dennis Russell Davies, was first performed at the Stuttgart Theaterhaus in July 1995; in September 1996 Garbarek appeared as soloist with the Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Night Prayers in the Georgian capital.Midday Prayers, completed in 1991, was originally scored for 18 instruments, boy's voice and solo clarinet. German soprano Maacha Deubner - whose purity of tone was evident throughout Exil - is featured in the recorded version. The work is described by Jungheinrich as a "musical poem. It has as its motto two passages from the Passion. Towards the end of the piece the soprano with a brittle paucity of emotion intones 'as if from afar' the words of Christ in Latin: 'My God, why hast thou forsaken me'' and 'Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.' Abandonment and surrender - the two poles of the existential sensibility that characterize Kancheli's music." Swiss clarinettist Eduard Brunner, who is the work's dedicatee, was previously heard in the New Series on recordings of Shostakovich and Stravinsky in our Lockenhaus anthologies (ECM New Series 1304/05) and alongside Kim Kashkasian on the exceptional recording Hommage à R. Sch (ECM New Series 1508), which sets György Kurtag's tribute to Schumann in a context that includes the latter's Fantasiestücke and Märchenerzählungen. A solo recording by Brunner, playing Isang Yun, Stockhausen, Scelsi, Boulez, Lachenmann and Stravinsky, will also be released in 1997.Kim Kashkashian, who appeared on the earlier Kancheli recordings Liturgy (Vom Winde beweint) and Abii ne viderem (respectively ECM New Series 1471 and 1510) is regarded by the composer as one of the optimum interpreters of his music; in a New York Times article in 1995, Kancheli suggested that Kaskashian's Armenian ancestry has given the violist particular insights into his own inspirational sources. There are parallels to be drawn, Kancheli has said, between the plights of Georgia and Armenia. Certainly the words set for Caris mere (Georgian for "After the Wind") - from the gospels of Mark and Luke and from Hölderlin's Hyperion - convey a sense of darkness, despair and devastation that the solo viola underlines. Kancheli originally envisaged Caris mere as part of his Exil song cycle but, recognising that it was sufficiently powerful to stand alone, detached it from that body of work.