Gubaidulina: Piano Quintet; Introitus; Dancer on a Tightrope

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Gubaidulina
WORKS: Piano Quintet; Introitus; Dancer on a Tightrope
PERFORMER: Reiko Aizawa, Béatrice Rauchs, Vadim Sakharov (piano), Gidon Kremer, Kai Vogler, Mira Wang (violin), Ulrich Eichenauer (viola), Peter Bruns (cello); Kiev Chamber Players/Vladimir Kozhukhar
It’s always interesting to find out how an outstanding composer found his or her own voice. Although it’s relatively easy to pick out influences in Sofia Gubaidulina’s early Piano Quintet (Shostakovich and Prokofiev leap to mind), many distinctive Gubaidulina elements are here too. There’s the juxtaposition of the primitive (such as the frequent use of simple repeated notes) with the subtly ornate, the combination of sharp or sombre intensity with a mercurial wit. In this excellent performance, it’s a very enjoyable, exhilarating experience in its own right. But the chamber piano concerto Introitus – written two decades later – is clearly the genuine, fully mature article. Strange how, for all the darkness and pain there is in Gubaidulina’s music, there’s often a strange sense of serenity too. Here it emerges in intricate floating chant-based polyphony, or in the piano’s reflective solos. In pieces like this, one senses something strong and sustaining at the heart of Gubaidulina’s music – a core of spirituality devastatingly absent in the music of her contemporary Alfred Schnittke. Having said that, I found it much harder to get to the heart of Dancer on a Tightrope – pretty opaque was the first impression. Still, given performances and recordings of this quality, I’m looking forward to going back and trying again. Stephen Johnson