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Sofia GUBAIDULINA (b. 1931)
Quintet for Piano, Two Violins, Viola and Violoncello (1957)
Introitus, Concerto for Piano and Chamber Orchestra (1978)
Dancer on a Tightrope (Der Seiltänzer) (1993)
Rieko Aizawa (piano) Kai Vogler and Mira Wang (violins) Ulrich Eichenauer (viola) Peter Bruns (cello) (Quintet)
Béatrice Rauchs (piano) Kyiv Chamber Players – Vladimir Kozhukhar (Introitus)
Gidon Kremer (violin) Vadim Sakharov (piano) (Dancer on a Tightrope)
Recorded August 1997, Schloβ Moritzburg, Germany (Quintet) April 1995, Radio Kyiv, Ukraine (Introitus) July 1995, Burg Lockenhaus, Austria (Dancer) DDD
BIS BIS-CD-898 [68:43]


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BIS have done much to put Sofia Gubaidulina’s music before a wider public, as a brief glance at their discography of her music shows. Here we have another recording revealing the depth of thought her music can offer. The principal interest here is in the contrast between what is only Gubaidulina’s second acknowledged work, the 1957 Piano Quintet and two later works written respectively twenty-one and thirty-five years later.

Not surprisingly for a Soviet-born composer who grew up in the forties and fifties, the influence of Shostakovich on her early music can be seen as unavoidable although it soon becomes clear that Prokofiev is also present, albeit to a lesser degree. Gubaidulina graduated in composition following studies at the Moscow Conservatory with Nikolai Peiko, Shostakovich’s assistant, so the contact would indeed have been close. In the Quintet’s opening Allegro the spirit of Shostakovich is immediately striking in the slightly cheeky yet irony-tinged melody, the driving rhythms that often predominate and the contrasting intensity of the slower central section. Yet the invention is assured, technically strong and not without signs of the Gubaidulina to come (try the build up to the recapitulation of the opening theme). More than any other movement the Andante marciale that follows seems to slip into Prokofiev’s world, the gait of the music and the contrapuntal writing in particular showing his influence. The affecting slow movement, marked Larghetto sensibile, shows pathos and more than a dash of sentimentality during its ten minute course. The final breathless Presto is back to the mould of the opening, rhythmically vivacious and boundlessly energetic. The performers here play with dedicated commitment and for all its derivations I found the music to be both fascinating and entertaining.

The contrast with Introitus of 1978 is immediate. Despite its sub-title of Concerto for Piano and Chamber Orchestra the work is far from a conventional concerto in form or content. Gubaidulina eschews the openly virtuosic in favour of a formidably structured unfolding processional that operates on a number of different organisational levels. By this point in her career Gubaidulina’s spiritual beliefs were often influencing her approach to composition. Here the figure three, the Christian symbol of the divine, gives an overall structure: three continuously played sections, the first of which itself unfolds in three sub-sections. At the same time the composer assigns certain meanings to the technical characteristics of the instruments including staccato, pizzicato, glissando etc. On another level again material is organised in groups of differing piches, microtonal, pentatonic, diatonic and chromatic. The sense of journey into spiritual contemplation that the work creates is compelling. The sound world is sometimes strikingly individual and the twenty-five minute duration, skilfully controlled and sustained.

By Dancer on a Tightrope of 1993, the composer had progressed still further into her own world and this is by some margin the most difficult of these works to access. The piece evokes a desire to "break away from the confines of everyday life". It provides a technically challenging platform for the violinist in which the instrument is initially pitted against the strings of the piano played with a glass tumbler. Around half way through the symbolic transition is made to the keyboard. In this live performance Gidon Kremer is more than equal to the extensions of technique that the writing calls for. She demonstrates a genuine mastery of idiom that is entirely appropriate to Gubaidulina’s sophisticated and deeply personal sound world.

Christopher Thomas



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