"Trauerfarbenes Land" translates as "Country the color of mourning." As evidenced by this record, the mournfully dramatic influence of Gustav Mahler goes east, straight through Shostakovich to Georgian composer-in-exile Kancheli. During Shostakovichs excruciating tenure as one of Stalins star whipping boys, his symphonies, string quartets, etc., expressed a vast, poetic melancholy that was shared both musically and philosophically by many of the former Soviet Unions younger composers: Kancheli, Sofia Gubaidulina and Galina Ustvolskaya, among others. But within the current spectrum of post-Soviet music, Kanchelis work embodies most intensely the struggle between hope as founded in national tradition and the people and despair over history as we know it.
At first, this new composition will seem familiar to aficionados of Kanchelis large orchestral settings, with their stunning contrasts between the lyrical and the overwhelming: fragile string-section vistas opening out to the far horizon, brooding woodwinds, storming brasses and percussion the full, Mahlerian dynamo of emotion. But Kancheli has achieved a kind of minimalist introspection in Trauerfarbenes Land; each of the successive motifs is called up for inspection, turned over carefully by his minds ear and released into the thin, tragic air of necessity. Prefaced and then punctuated by wailing, almost Middle Eastern trills like those of a village ceremonial band this nearly hour-long tone poem eventually becomes a raging funeral dirge, with chordal suspensions and silences worthy of Morton Feldman.
And Dennis Russell Davies conducts Kanchelis masterwork as if it were the song of the earth, which it is.