Sofia Gubaidulina (ECM New Series 1775)


Sofia Gubaidulina

Elsbeth Moser bayan
Boris Pergamentschikow cello
Münchener Kammerorchester
Christoph Poppen conductor
Recorded January 2001, Himmelfahrtskirche Sendling, München
Engineer: Stephan Schellmann
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“There is no more important reason for composing music than spiritual renewal.”
–Sofia Gubaidulina

Shostakovich once famously said of his student, Sofia Gubaidulina, “I want you to continue along your mistaken path.” Mistaken, that was, in the former Soviet Union, where the deliverance preached through her devout composing sat uncomfortably with censors. So much so that when she composed her Seven Words in 1982, she was obliged to leave out “…of Our Savior on the Cross” from its title. Nevertheless, this riveting work is one of the twentieth century’s reigning masterpieces. One will want to compare Gubaidulina’s instinctive metaphorical approach to Haydn’s more direct setting of the same. The two could hardly be more different, either in sound or in circumstance, but they clearly embrace the same fragile heart. Providing the blood herein is the bayan, a button accordion typically heard in Russian folk contexts. Through Gubaidulina’s notecraft, and in the hands of longtime associate Elsbeth Moser, it becomes a speech act in its own right. In constant dialogue with a cello soloist and tentative orchestral commentary, the bayan comports itself not unlike the turbulent waves on the album’s sleeve. And while there are far too many moments to single out for praise, the epiphany of Part VI (“It is finished”) is a wondrous experience indeed, and leads us to an ending that is beyond earthly.

The following Ten Preludes (1974, rev. 1999) for cello were originally conceived as instructional etudes, with the final piece leaving room for improvisation, and therefore the creative edge of the performer. Inevitably, these have taken on lives of their own, and flow here in a line of fractured counterpoint that “resets” us for the heavenly strains of De profundis (1978) for bayan alone. The instrument’s multilayered sound lends itself beautifully to the Trinitarian gaze in which it finds itself illuminated, lapsing into trundled passages where lateral divisions turn our souls to the indecipherable limits of their own awareness.

There is no ground on which to stand in this music. One must remain elevated, if not airborne, in relation to one’s expectations, always approaching them from above. It is a revelation to finally have Gubaidulina’s music represented on ECM, where spacious production values give it all the berth it needs. Let us hope this is not a one-off affair.

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