Sofia GUBAIDULINA (b.1931)
7 Etüden fur Kontrabass [19:59]
Pentimento [23:54]
Klaus AGER (b.1946)
Migrations (1990) [15:50]
Sofia Gubaidulina (Donner-Tube)
Ensemble Mobile (Yvonne Zehner, Pavel Khlopovsky, Ulrike Reithmeier (guitars); Alexander Suslin (double-bass))
rec. Gotisches Langhaus, Kloster Niedemburg, Germany 17 November 2009. DDD.
THOROFON CTH 2569 [60:04]

This is an intense, close, intimate and highly-concentrated recital of small-scale music for strings by two post-war composers - from the former Soviet Union and Austria. Both still living, the Russian Gubaidulina is half a generation older than Austrian Ager. Their styles have as much in common as they have differences. Indeed, Ager's Migrations for two guitars shares Gubaidulina's lyricism and understatement. But melody and affect are further to the fore in his case than they are in either of Gubaidulina's two pieces here. Dedicated to Peter Prandstätter, Migrations is a study in 'picturing' the (after) effects that (musical) events make on the consciousness … the dust after the horse has galloped past - yet dust that can only come from such movement. Those instruments chosen approach this idea well and are convincingly played but tend in themselves and their somewhat muted reach to predetermine the force with which we are invited to respond to what for Ager are 'reactions to inaudible things'.

Pentimento - the underlying image of a painting where an artist has made a (later) adjustment - is itself an arrangement of Gubaidulina's Ravvedimento, which was written for cello and guitar quartet. Because of this unusual instrumental combination, the composer has made this (one of two) arrangement for three guitars and double bass. Rondo in form it too explores change, transmutation - as much of texture as anything. Though there are also moments of extreme passion and excitement - especially in the latter third of the piece [tr.9], contrast is also important - as is the case with much of Gubaidulina's œuvre. Coming at this piece without preconceptions and preparation, one is likely to be struck by the variety and impact of the sounds made by these performers. These are never sounds - like those that almost 'roar' toward the end of this piece - for their own sake. They are sounds as indicators of something actually very musical and full of appeal. This is a great gift both of the composer, and these performers.

Gubaidulina's 7 Études for solo double-bass are also re-workings; of her 10 Préludes for solo cello. And again there is a metaphor from the visual arts … that of the preliminary sketches which a painter makes before starting a large project. Various effects are combined, substituted, tried out, rejected, surpassed and so on. Again, Gubaidulina is exploring various ways to make sounds … staccato, legato, sul ponticello. Yet again, these come across not as experiments, open-ended attempts to 'see what happens', but as dedicated and purposeful explorations - albeit with improvisation - into directions that music can take given an unambiguous starting-point. One of Gubaidulina's great strengths: with her music you sense that she seems always to have had what you hear in mind from the start. Ensemble Mobile is fully in tune with such an approach. They make ideal interpreters of this music in that they intelligently balance spontaneity with surety to achieve the right palette and freshness. They are a five-person ensemble which includes Gubaidulina herself playing Donner-Tube. Indeed, they are as directed towards communicating the very essence of the music as they are competent to draw out its every drop of meaning.

The acoustic is appropriately close, though not claustrophobic. The booklet that comes with the CD contains useful background on compositions and performers as well as on Gubaidulina and Ager. As an example of unusual and successful combinations of instruments and highly imaginative contemporary writing, this CD is well worth a look. Klaus Ager has nothing else in the current catalogue; nor is either of the two works by Gubaidulina otherwise available.

Mark Sealey