Sofia GUBAIDULINA (b.1931)
Fachwerk, for bayan, percussion and string orchestra (2009/2011) [26:16]
Silenzio, for bayan, violin & cello (1991) [19:38]
Geir Draugsvoll (bayan)
Anders Loguin (percussion)
Geir Inge Lotsberg (violin)
Řyvind Gimse (cello)
Trondheim Symphony Orchestra/Řyvind Gimse
rec. Kolstad Church, Trondheim, 28 February - 4 March 2011. DDD
NAXOS 8.572772 [55:54]

This is only the second CD by Naxos of Sofia Gubaidulina's music, and is well overdue. The last one was released more than fifteen years ago - and was also dedicated to her music for accordion. On this latest release the more distinctive bayan replaces the accordion in two works, one orchestral and brand-new, one older chamber, that explore the expressive capabilities of a panoplied instrument that has been puzzlingly neglected by classical musicians.

The single-movement Fachwerk is predominantly mysterious and cogitative in nature, with one or two dramatic incidents along the way - most notably in the last five minutes, when the bayan suddenly takes a turn for the demonic. The scoring might hint at avant-garde 'crash-bang-wallop' effects, but in fact the percussion is overwhelmingly low-key. This allows the bayan time and space to be heard and appreciated in what is fundamentally a tonally inclined work. Fachwerk is not really a concerto, however: there is little sense of its being pitted against the orchestra, and its colours often lower themselves luxuriously into a bed of strings.

Gubaidulina dedicated Fachwerk to Norwegian soloist Geir Draugsvoll, who gave the world premiere in 2009. Draugsvoll repays the compliment in full with a marvellously nuanced account of a marvellously nuanced work. The strings of the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra, hardly famous but making music for over a century now, give a focused, attentive performance under Řyvind Gimse's direction.

The booklet notes seem to indicate that Gubaidulina herself translates the title as 'Timber Framing', a reference to the architectural style characteristic of Germany and other parts of Europe, but in musical terms, 'Framework', or more ambiguously 'Truss', is a more literal and possibly more satisfying English title.

This is the premiere recording of Fachwerk. Perhaps surprisingly though, it is not the first recording of Silenzio. In fact NEOS released a triple CD (11106-08) of Gubaidulina's double bass-based chamber music at around the same time as this Naxos disc, which included a version of Silenzio in which the bass replaced the cello. The bayan there was played by the Swiss virtuoso Elsbeth Moser, who also appeared on a 1995 Naxos recording of Silenzio (8.553557). The previous year on BIS (CD-710) the soloist, this time on the classical accordion, was ... Geir Draugsvoll. BIS have, more than any label, supported Gubaidulina over the last decade or more, and another BIS CD (810) quickly followed with a further recording of Silenzio, this time with Friedrich Lips on bayan, opulently co-starring Gidon Kremer on violin (review) - Kremer having previously brought Gubaidulina to international attention through his premiering of her violin concerto Offertorium.

As the title suggests, Silenzio is a largely quiet piece, low-key and gentle pianissimo rather than silent, although Gubaidulina makes repeated and effective use of rests. The five short or shortish movements are more suggestive than descriptive, evocative of vast mysterious twilit landscapes, or the claustrophobic uneasiness of preternatural dreams. Like Fachwerk, Silenzio is more or less tonal and should be accessible to most listeners. There are numerous snippets of melody of sorts, and though the sound-world of the bayan is decidedly exotic, it is always skilfully regulated by Gubaidulina in the score and beautifully interwoven by Draugsvoll, Lotsberg and Gimse ex vivo.

Sound quality is very good. The CD booklet sports one of Naxos's occasional modern-look covers. The notes are brief but reasonably informative. There is a slightly bizarre photo of Draugsvoll with a bayan that appears to be attached to the back of his head.

Also reviewed here and here

Byzantion Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk

Fundamentally tonally inclined … marvellously nuanced.