Sophia: Biography of a Violin Concerto

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Sofia Gubaidulina
LABELS: Arthaus
WORKS: Sofia Gubaidulina: Second Violin Concerto (In Tempus Praestanas)
PERFORMER: Sofia Gubaidulina, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Gidon Kremer; Berlin PO/Simon Rattle
CATALOGUE NO: Arthaus 101 545 (NTSC system; PCM stereo; 16:9 picture format)

Schmidt-Garre’s documentary takes us through Sofia Gubaidulina’s creation of her second violin concerto, In Tempus Praestans (the title, curiously, is never mentioned in the film) for Anne-Sophie Mutter. Interviews with composer and violinist intercut with scenes of Gubaidulina composing, Mutter receiving parts of the score and trying out passages for the first time, through rehearsals and the premiere in Lucerne with the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle. We hear from others – Gidon Kremer, a slightly pompous Swiss critic, and so on – but it’s the polarity of composer and performer that is the kernel of the film: Mutter cool, sveltely glamorous and severely practical, Gubaidulina looking more and more like a rumpled Babushka but eloquent (in German and Russian) on matters spiritual, the act of creation, and the mathematical series that, Bach-like, give discipline to her fantasy.
The sleeve prints a testimonial from one critic: ‘The most beautiful music film I have ever seen’. My feelings are nothing like as hyperbolic, but it’s an absorbing, interesting, at times touching study of aspects of the creative process. We hear the work itself only in snatches, and the film seems to have no proper end, fading out as the performance is still in progress: but I admit it sent me straight back to listen to Mutter’s DG recording of the concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev. I liked the piece anyway, but I felt I now had a greater understanding and appreciation of it: surely one of the greatest concertos of recent years. 
There are no extras to speak of, but a substantial interview with Gubaidulina – not from the DVD itself, though touching on the same topics – is printed on the gatefold packaging. Calum MacDonald