Thursday, December 4, 2014

Sofia Gubaidulina - In Croce - Silenzio - Seven Words - Maria Kliegel, cello - Elsbeth Moser, bayan - Kathrin Rabus, violin - Camerata Transsylvanica - Naxos 1995

This disc is fully reflective of the adventurous programming and surveying of lesser-known composers that started to appear in the Naxos catalog in the early and mid 1990's (indeed it was actually Naxos's early recording of Gorecki's 3rd, which imo, is a very close runner-up to the classic Dawn Upshaw Nonesuch disc- that really got me into the Polish master). Without a doubt Naxos helped to propel interest in many composers that were scantily represented in modern recordings
(with mostly vinyl era documents available) and if one looks at the amount of Gubaidulina discs available now vs. in 1995, it's easy to see the difference. Chandos, BIS, CPO (a Naxos label) and a couple others too released her music around the same time (actually Chandos and BIS offered their discs in 1993). But when a budget label easily accessible to a larger audience makes such enterprising efforts, the results are needless to say much more substantial.

Gubaidulina has written orchestral, concertante, vocal, instrumental and much chamber music for all kinds of ensembles, and it was her bayan (Russian button accordion) and string music which Naxos chose to record, a bold move. Each of the these pieces is an outstanding example of how the bayan can seemlessly blend with strings. The Transsylvanian string players do an outstanding job here. Moser, the Swiss Bayan player is excellent and makes the atmosphere that much more haunting. "In Croce" and "Silenzio" were originally dedicated to Moser by Gubaidulina herself.

The bayan's role in these pieces might be said to symbolize the earthly body or the soul in physical form - it's breathing abilities predominate. The pieces are acknowledged to have religious, particularly Christian content. This is especially apparent in Seven Words where biblical text of Christ's last words on the cross is evoked emotionally in sound. This being said, the music succeeds with or without the programmatic content.

Though certainly not tonal in a traditional sense, Gubaidulina's music creates a sense of tonal center by reiteration of a pitch or a limited range of pitches. The music is generally not contrapuntal and is based on cell-like figures which expand over an extended period, often building in intensity. At the beginning of "In Croce" or 'Cross for Bayan and Cello', the bayan repeats what later is heard to be the natural overtone series of a cello string. The motif rises in pitch and loudness to a climax as the cello introduces a powerful ascending theme. Then a symbolic void ensues as silence and delicate exchanges occur between the cello and bayan. The cello has a slow searching pizzicato solo followed by a downward flowing of notes by the bayan as the cello resumes it's ascension theme. The work concludes as the two instruments change places - the cello playing the bayan's opening motif and vice versa.

"Silenzio" and "Seven Words" are a series of miniature episodes - some as short as 2 minutes - that evoke distinct otherworldly atmospheres. "Silenzio" adds a violin to the duo of cello and bayan while "Seven Words" adds a full string orchestra. The emotional tone of this music is haunting, introspective and somber.

"Silenzio" begins with a tentative germination of a theme based around D with brief excursions to chromatic neighbor tones. The 5th piece completes and extends this theme. Though there are 5 stated movements, within each movement are many shifting sections - one dovetailing into the other beautifully. Though played softly, the "silence" here is more metaphorical than actual. One might sense the mysterious hidden workings of existence - hidden being equated with silent.

"Seven Words" is a major work and one which disproves what some feel that contemporary music cannot have direct emotional impact. There is a strong almost primitive power here with it's heavy percussive tone clusters and ethereal string writing. Perhaps it's the metaphysical subtext that gives Gubaidulina's work a needed dimension beyond purely abstract musical construction. This is by far the work that I enjoy the most on the disc.

The string section, possibly evoking angelic forces, appears on occasion to hover above the turmoil of Christ's body and spirit which is represented by the pairing of cello and bayan, which often play in unison. A gorgeous melodic passage runs throughout the piece, punctuating the various dramatic episodes. Christ's lament "why hast thou forsaken me?" is musically expressed in the disjunction of cello and bayan while the angelic strings are seemingly indifferent. A desperate striving upward is finally met by powerful unison bursts from the strings then a withdrawal into silence. As Christ's body dies ('It is accomplished') the bayan gasps in pain with loud tone clusters, it's physical breathing presence accentuated. At the work's conclusion, a soft shimmering pattern of fast notes is played on the bayan suggesting the transformation of physical death into spiritual rebirth.

An example of the bayan

Gubaidulina's music can be polarizing, but that's true of so much music. On this particular disc of her bayan chamber works, repeated listenings is the only way to fully appreciate and penetrate this deeply spiritual world of sounds.



theblueamos said...

Thank you Thank you.I love Gubaidulina.I just got her disc:Repentance.It is hauntingly beautiful.I love her piano music,string quartets ,and a composition for Bassoon and lower strings? I have this cd, albeit I can only listen to it when Im alone in the house.Well their loss.Be well and all the best from Jerusalem.

Tzadik said...

Hi there t.b.a. you are welcome welcome! Had no idea you are a Gubaidulina fan, I will keep that in mind and post more when I unearth/go thru more of my collection, it's a slow and overwhelming process. Years ago I actually managed to keep everything alphabetical, 1000s of this point getting back to that sort of orderliness will take the next 10 years!

Regards, Tz

Anonymous said...


Tzadik said...

Anon you are welcome, thank you for commenting!

peac eac said...

Thank you so much for sharing! Could you please reup this disc? The inks don't work anymore... Thanks!

Tzadik said...

Hi peac eac, I will make a note of it - these days I have less time and my upload speeds are now terrible. That said, I will make sure to re-up it for you in the near future.