Monday 19 September 2016

Impressive scale and ambition: Nicolas Kaviani's Te Deum

Kaviani - Te Deum - Navona Records
Nicolas Kaviani Te Deum, Tous le matins du monde; Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, Janacek Opera Choir, Petr Vronsky, Prague Mixed Chamber Choir, Jrir Petrdik; Navona Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 06 2016
Star rating: 3.5

World premiere recordings of two hugely ambitious works by young American composer

Nicolas Kaviani is a name that is new to me. The American composer has written a large scale setting of the Te Deum for chorus and orchestra which receives its first recording on Navona Records performed by the Janacek Opera Choir and Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Petr Vronsky with soloists Martina Kralikova, Barbora Polaskova, Juraj Nocar, Jiri Pribyl and Karel Martinek. The work is paired with another shorter piece by Kaviani, Tous les matins du monde sung by Prague Mixed Chamber Choir conducted by Jiri Petrdik.

Kaviani studied at the University of California at Santa Cruz under David Cope, and Conservatoire de Musique Olivier Messiaen in Avignon, France. He is clearly a composer of some ambition, the Te Deum is a large scale work lasting some 24 minutes and written in the biggest symphonic style, and has composed a two hour long Missa Solemnis for choir, soloists and orchestra.

In ambition and scope the Te Deum reminds me of Bruckner's setting. Though Kaviani's style is not reminiscent of Bruckner, the all encompassing nature of the setting is Brucknerian in scope. Kaviani seems to come from a non-religious point of view, not only is this a concert work but the work speaks of a very human vitality and frailty rather than aiming for transcendence.

Kaviani writes in a bold late-romantic style which would seem relatively out of fashion at the moment, tonal with a highly chromatic sense of harmony. It is a very big boned work, there are no tunes as such, the work derives its effect from contrast in terms of motifs, harmony and dynamic. All is not bombast, Kaviani does have quieter more intimate moments but I did wonder whether the piece might have been stronger if Kaviani had taken the motto 'less is more' to heart. As it is the work's ambition seems to sometimes outstrip the material, and this seems to reflect the fact that it is a rather early work.

That it is challenging to perform is clear from the opening moments, when Kaviani takes the choral sopranos crucially high. The performers do a superb job at tackling the material, and conductor Petr Vronsky keeps things admirably on track. But it is not an easy recording, the sheer strain of the piece shows in the performance and I suspect that the work would have benefited from more rehearsal time.

The accompanying piece is a shorter setting of a poem which I presume to be by Kaviani himself. This is a highly taxing piece of unaccompanied choral writing, and again the sheer difficulty of the piece does sometimes show. But Kaviani is writing in a far more contemporary style, with some extremely intense and dense chromatic part writing. This creates a striking voice indeed and I have great admiration for the Prague Chamber Choir in the way they bring the piece off.

The disc includes some basic information about the works, along with a short article by the composer, but provides little coherent information about his background. That his website ( does not seem to be working only adds to the confusion, and you must do a bit of digging to find more information though the Navona Records website is helpful here.

The set also comes with a DVD by Alexis Hellot about the making of the disc. What comes over from the disc is sheer complexity of mounting these difficult works for the first time,  compounded by the language problems so that discussions between conductor and composer move between English, German and gesture. One cannot help but be impressed with the skill and professionalism of the performers,  the determination of the composer and the sheer difficulty of bringing the work to fruition.

This set, the CD and DVD, is the record of remarkable ambition and determination. It remains to be seen whether the works will be taken up by other performers. The problem being for a composer is whether to try and record your most ambitious pieces, or whether it is better to gain exposure for less ambitious but more saleable works.

Nicolas Kaviani - Te Deum (2005) [24.41]
Nicolas Kaviani - Tous les matins du monde (2014) [5.08)
Martina Kralikova (soprano)
Barbora Polaskova (alto)
Juraj Nocar (tenor)
Jiri Pribyl (baritone)
Karel Martinek (organ)
Janacek Opera Choir
Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra
Petr Vronsky (conductor)
Prague Mixed Chamber ChoirJiri Petrdik(conductor)
Te Deum recorded September 7-9, 29, 2014 at Reduta Hall,Olomouc, Czech Republic
Organ for Te Deum recorded September 9, 2014 at St. Moritz Church in Olomouc, Czech Republic
Tous les matins du monde recorded September 10, 2014 at Martin Hall, Prague Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, Czech Republic
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