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CD Review:

Geir Draugsvoll

Sofia Gubaidulina

Geir Draugsvoll, classical accordeon
Arne Balk Moller, violin
Henrik Brendstrup, cello
Rascher Saxophone Quartet
Kroumata Percussion Ensemble


Silenzio (1991)
De profundis (1978)
Et exspecto (1985)
In Erwartung (1994)

total time: 69:02
Released in 1995
Review number and date: No. 54, July 1997

label: BIS (BIS CD 710)
Grammofon AB BIS
Bragevagen 2
S-182 64 Djursholm

Tel. 08 (Int. +46 8) 755 4100
Fax. 08 (Int. +46 8) 755 7676

In USA contact: Qualiton Imports Ltd.
24-02 40th Ave.
Long Island City, New York 11101

Review by Henry Doktorski:

Sofia Gubaidulina (b. 1931 in the Tatar Republic) is, along with Schnittke, Denisov and Silvestrov, one of the leading representatives of the New Music from the former Soviet Union. She studied piano and composition and graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1954. In 1975 she co-founded the "Astreya Ensemble," a new music group which specialized in improvising on rare Russian, Caucasian, Central Asian and East Asian folk and ritual instruments. These hitherto unknown sounds and timbres and ways of experiencing musical time had a profound influence on her creative work.

Since the early 1980s her works have been performed widely in western countries. She has received commissions from the BBC, the Berlin Festival, the Library of Congress and other institutions. She has won numerous prizes including the Rome International Composer's Competition (1974), the Prix de Monaco (1987), the Koussevitzky International Record Award (1989 and 1994), the Premio Franco Abbiato (1991), the Heidelberger Kunstlerinnenpreis (1991) and the Russian State Prize (1992).

Gubaidulina's works are characterized by an almost total absence of 'absolute music,' ie., music devoid of extra-musical ideas. Most of her pieces are programmatic; they contain a poem, either set to music or hidden between the lines, a ritual or some kind of instrumental action. Some of her compositions reveal an affinity with mystical ideas and Christian mysticism.

Silenzio, for accordion (in Russia the instrument is called 'bayan' and is, for the most part, accepted by classical music lovers), violin and cello, was dedicated to the German accordionist and pedagogue Elsbeth Moser, who gave the work its first performance in 1991 in Hanover Germany. The work is so titled because most of it is played pianissimo. There are five movements, titled: quarter note = 96, double whole note = 42, quarter note = 56, eighth note = 152 and quarter note = 72. The work has a predilection for minor seconds and tone clusters.

The sound of the accordion with strings works extremely well together [one cannot ignore the many pieces written for accordion and string quartet/orchestra by Astor Piazzolla, David Diamond, Daniel Foley, Hugo Herrmann, G. Wuensch, W. Buczynski, and others including Bernhard Molique (1802-1869) and P.I. Tchaikovsky (his Orchestral Suite No. 1 from 1883 includes a part for four accordions)].

The contrast between the stringed instruments and the accordion is a fundamental compositional element of Silenzio. Especially interesting is the fourth movement which consists of repetitive string pizzicati punctuated by short bursts of accordion tone clusters with tremolo (similar to the tremolo of a pipe organ in which the bellows are gently shaken).

De profundis, an eleven-minute one-movement work for accordion, was dedicated to the Russian bayanist Friedrich Lips -- a pioneer who fundamentally changed the technique of the classical accordion -- who gave its first performance in Moscow in 1980. The title refers to the Latin version of the Psalm 130: "Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord." The score (published by Sikorski) begins with a page and a half of tone clusters and glissandi in the low register articulated with bellow shakes -- rapid and repeated reversals of the bellows which are the equivalent of the tremolando by the strings).

Et exspecto, a seventeen-minute five-movement sonata for accordion, was also the result of an artistic collaboration with Friedrich Lips. The movements range from gentle hymn-like chorales to violent fortissimo tone clusters for both manuals. The third movement -- presto -- reminded me of the dynamic percussive clustered writing of the Piano Sonata by Bela Bartok which I first performed during my senior year in college.

The final work on the CD, In Erwartung for saxophone quartet and six percussionists, is the only piece on the album which does not include the accordion. The work was written for the Rascher Saxophone Quartet and the Kroumata Percussion Ensemble and was premiered in Stockholm in 1994.

From listening to the CD it is obvious that all the performers are superb musicians and are familiar with contemporary techniques and styles. Accordionist Geir Draugsvoll -- a graduate of the Royal Danish Conservatory in 1992 -- is especially to be congratulated for his stunning performances on this album. I listened to De profundis and Et exspecto while following along with the score; his playing is masterful and true to the composer's intent.

In addition, the CD booklet notes -- printed in English, German and French -- written by Valentina Kholopova and Sofia Gubaidulina are some of the best liner notes I have ever read: extremely informative and easy to read. I recommend this CD for all lovers of contemporary classical music.

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