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CD: Crotchet

Sofia GUBA¤DULINA (b. 1931)
Complete Works for Solo Piano
Chaconne (1963) [8:41]
Musical Toys (1969) (Mechanical Accordion [0:31]
Magic Roundabout [0:37]
The Trumpeter in the Forest [1:31]
The Magic Smith [0:59]
April Day [1:03]
Song of the Fisherman [1:36]
The little Tit [1:12]
A Bear Playing the Double Bass and the Black Woman [0:56]
The Woodpecker [2:12]
The Elk Clearing [1:06]
Sleigh with Little Bells [00:46]
The Echo [1:58]
The Drummer [1:27]
Forest Musicians [2:18])
Sonata (1965): I. Allegro [11:44] II. Adagio [6:28] III. Allegretto [3:43])
Toccata-Troncata (1971) [2:21]
Invention (1974) [1:08]
Marcela Roggeri (piano)
rec. August, 2007, Reims, France. DDD
TRANSART TR161 [52:52]
Experience Classicsonline

The Russian (Tatar) composer Sofia Guba´dulina is probably best appreciated for her searing and searching symphonic music. Her St John Passion and Canticle of the Sun leave one shellshocked by their austerity and by a kind of barren passion. It's the acute spareness, and ravishing attachment to her vision of the sacred, with Muslim and Slavonic roots, that inspire. So what to expect from her solo piano music? She initially studied piano at the Kazan Conservatory and admits to regarding the instrument as a source of fun and experimentation from her childhood; then she and her sister would, presumably, improvise. Guba´dulina remains an accomplished pianist.
Musical Toys is a collection for children. Miniatures redolent of Bartˇk's Mikrokosmos, they evoke a surprisingly wide field of emotions, thoughts and possibilities. No piece is longer than two and a half minutes; the shortest is timed at just 31 seconds. But these are no fragments. It's to the great credit of Argentinean pianist, Marcela Roggeri, that Guba´dulina's pleasing and almost effortless integrity and vision remain with the listener long after hearing the 14 pieces from beginning to end: deeply satisfying. The movements contain the perhaps inevitable musical onomatopoeia of birds' beaks, bells, drum-rolls and the like. These are never intrusive; Roggeri approaches them quite unselfconsciously and in such a way that they add to our appreciation of the intended musical development. Just what's wanted.

The Sonata, although written in 1965, was not published for almost ten years. In this work it is again sound that interests Guba´dulina. The piano is 'prepared' and its natural structureá as a physical instrument - the resonances of the sound-board, for example - are exploited. It's violent music. Its impact is also made by contrasts between tension and relaxation. In some ways the control of chaos - admirably accomplished by Roggeri - is akin to the large-scale unwinding and corralling of musical ideas in a work like the Offertorium violin concerto.

There is a Bach-like quality to many of the pieces on this disc: the Chaconne, Invention and Musical Toys: Magic Roundabout [trs.1, 20, 3] in particular. But Bach in the way that Shostakovich knew him. The counterpoint, contrast and forward movement in his 24 Preludes for Piano are present here. Musical Toys: The Drummer [tr.14], for example, could almost be extracted from that work. In the Chaconne, one of Guba´dulina's earliest acknowledged works, she not only nods in the direction of another arranger of Bach, Busoni, but also consciously looks to the sonorities of the organ. In the Musical Toys collection, from six years later, there are also influences of jazz, Bartˇk and Prokoviev amongst others: there is both dissonance and a tonal centre.

Toccata-Troncata and Invention also display disparate influences ů Bach again, ostinato techniques and an attention to the acoustics of the piano. Again, Roggeri is on top form. Her playing is trenchant yet full of feeling. Quite an achievement and one that only comes from a mixture of confidence and familiarity with the idiom and dedication to and fondness for the composer. These Roggeri has in abundance.

Diana Baker has a complete piano works (on Stradivarius 33756) in which she too is more than up to the demands of the same works - particularly the Sonata. But the playing of Roggeri on this cleanly-recorded (live) Transart CD has everything of subtlety, poise, detachment and above all a gracious interpretative thoughtfulness that make this the recording to go for. Her playing is both commanding and inquisitive: the way she seems to be hearing the highly challenging Allegro of the Sonata [tr.16] for the first time, for example, brings out its freshness and spontaneity; yet her reading never misses a beat.

This CD, then, contains a great repository of somewhat unusual yet very compelling music. One can hardly listen to it without reassessing one's appreciation of Sofia Guba´dulina. That reassessment - thanks to the perception of Marcela Roggeri - is going to lead to a wider and deeper one.

There is more variety in the concentrated and charged piano music of Sofia Guba´dulina than you might expect. Its insistence, caustic emotion and tidiness mixed with external musical associations need a perceptive pianist. Marcela Roggeri is such a one.
Mark Sealey


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