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CD Review: Sofia Gubaidulina, composer
Sieben Worte - In croce
Total Time: 54:54
Released in 1994
Label: Wergo (WER 6263-2)
Schott Wergo Music Media GmbH
Julius Berger, violoncello
Stefan Hussong, Accordion
with the Chamber Orchestra Diagonal
Review by Henry Doktorski:
Out of all the nations of the world, I believe none have done as much to raise the standard of the accordion as the Russians. It was in Petersburg in the 1740s that Johann Wilde popularized the sheng by playing it for the Court Society. It was in Petersburg from the 1770s to the 1790s when Kratzenstein, Kirsnik, and Vogler were inspired to build the first free-reed instruments. It was in Tula when mass production of accordions began in the 1830s. It was in Vyatskaya in the 1840s when the first accordion w as built which had the same pitches opening and closing the bellows. This instrument was also the first with reeds sounding an octave above and below the pitch. It was in Tula where the first chromatic three-row accordion was built in 1870 by the Russian musician N.I. Beloborodov. It was in Kiev where the first conservatory program in bayan was established in 1927. It was in the U.S.S.R. where the first two concerti for accordion were written in 1937 by Rubtsov and Sotnikov. And in recent years, it is the improved Russian bayan which has become the preferred instrument of choice among the greatest international virtuosi of the instrument.
Out of a list of dozens of important Soviet composers who have written serious works for the bayan, Sofia Gubaidulina, born in the Tartar Republic in 1931, is the best-known. "She did not have an easy life in the Soviet Union. When a critic in 1962 praised her impeccable technique but belittled her intellectual position... she was advised by Dimitri Shostakovich to continue following her 'mistaken path.' Gubaidulina took this advice; she held fast to her artistic credo and, as a result, endured bitter privation. In the middle of the 1960s her works began to be played in the West; commissions and prizes soon followed, and from the 1980s she was able to travel regularly. Since 1992 she has found a new home in a small town near Hamburg." - from the CD booklet notes by Dorothea Redepenning
According to Sofia Gubaidulina, composing is for her a religious act; every work is a new path to the re-establishment of a unity to the Divine which is increasingly lost in the disconnected staccato of life. "Seiben Worte" (Seven Words), in the author's mind, stands as a masterpiece of late twentieth-century sacred music, on par with Arvo Part's "Stabat Mater" and Henryk Gorecki's "Miserere." The title refers to the cantata by Heinrich Schutz: "The Seven Last Words of Christ," and the titles of the movements are also taken from the Schutz cantata. The piece was premiered in Moscow (1982) by cellist Vladimir Toncha and bayanist Friedrich Lips.
Listening to "Seiben Worte" was, for the author, a moving religious experience. Twentieth-century musical styles are wonderfully suited to the programmatic depiction of pain and anguish due to their predilection for dissonance and the present piece is no exception. The listener is invited to become a contemporary observer of the crucifixion, and to feel, through the music, some of the suffering of Christ.
The composer has sculpted the piece so that the musical notation visually forms the shape of a cross. The first movement, "Father, forgive them" is a five-minute declamation of the pitch A. Sometimes it is presented pizzicato, sometimes arco, sometimes with tremolo and bellows-shaking, sometimes with slurs from the upper and lower neighboring notes. At times, the sound of the accordion and cello blend into each other, apparently becoming one instrument, making it difficult to tell where one begins and the other leaves off. There follows a quote from the original Schutz cantata, and then a gentle"sinfonia" by the string orchestra which periodically returns throughout the piece. The orchestral sinfonias act as a welcome unifying element throughout the work.
The fourth movement, "My God, why have You forsaken me" is the center of the composition and is much longer than the other movements. The string sinfonia becomes more chromatic and appears simultaneously with the solos for cello and accordion.
The final movement, "Into Your hands I commend my spirit" completes the work. The symbol of the cross appears in the strings for the seventh time, spread over seven octaves, corresponding with the seven movements and the seven last words of Christ.
The other piece on the CD, "In croce" was originally composed for cello and organ in 1979, and was later adapted by the composer for cello and bayan in 1992. This work, like "Seven Words" is also in the shape of a cross, and expresses some of the suffering of Christ's crucifixion.
The featured artists on this recording admirably succeed in their powerful presentation of Gubaidulina's music. Julius Berger teaches at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, and has recorded Paul Hindemith's works for violoncello and piano, Gubaidulina's works for cello and orchestra, and the works of Ernest Bloch, Max Bruch and others. Concert accordionist Stefan Hussong has taught at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and since 1990 has been a teacher of accordion and chamber music at the Conservatory of Wurzburg. He has recorded two solo CDS of works by Bach, Sweelinck, Hosokawa, Lindberg, Rojko, Cage, Holszky and Stavinsky.
The chamber orchestra "Diagonal" was formed in 1985 by section leaders in the Jeunesse Orchestra in Vienna and quickly advanced to an internationally renowned ensemble. Although normally the orchestra performs without a conductor, for this recording of "Seven Words" they were directed by Florian Rosensteiner, who studied in Linz and Vienna with Leopold Hager and Zubin Metha.
Gubaidulina's other works for bayan include De Profundis (1978), Et exspecto - sonata for bayan in five movements (1986) and Silenzio - for bayan, violin and violoncello (1992). The CD booklet notes are well-written and are printed in German, English and French.
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