Gubaidulina: The Canticle of the Sun; Preludes for solo cello (excerpts); In croce

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COMPOSERS: Gubaidulina
LABELS: Channel
WORKS: The Canticle of the Sun; Preludes for solo cello (excerpts); In croce
PERFORMER: Pieter Wispelwey (cello), An Raskin (bayan); Collegium Vocale Gent, Prometheus Ensemble/Daniel Reuss
Sofia Gubaidulina’s setting of St Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun for cello, choir and percussion is among her most visionary utterances, the ardour of the choral writing perfectly counterpointed by an elaborate and supremely taxing cello part (composed for Rostropovich) that turns the 12-movement piece into something like a choral cello concerto. This new version from Channel with the admirable Pieter Wispelwey as the cellist would seem self-recommending, if it didn’t come up against very stiff competition from a recent release by David Geringas and the Danish National Radio Choir under Stefan Parkman (Chandos, reviewed in February). Wispelwey writes eloquently in the booklet notes of his admiration for the Canticle, but I found this performance, though a very accurate one as regards the notes, somehow more small-scale than the Chandos, perhaps more intimate in effect but at a lower emotional temperature. I found I could exercise a measure of detachment from it, whereas the Chandos version is simply overwhelming. Still, it’s good to have competing versions of this splendidly imaginative work. While Chandos couples the Canticle with Gubaidulina’s choral suite on poems of Marina Tsvetayeva, Channel features Wispelwey in five of the Ten Preludes for cello and, with the bayan-player An Raskin, in Gubaidulina’s craggy cello-bayan duo In croce. Again, this continuously inventive and impressive piece is very well performed, but it feels like a cooler, more intellectual kind of music than it does in the hands of Francesco Dillon and Germano Scurti, whose gripping interpretation on Stradivarius is reviewed this month in Chamber. Were it not up against these very strong rivals in the two major works, this new release would set a benchmark: as it is, it’s very recommendable, especially if you want some of the composer’s most eloquent works. Calum MacDonald