Gubaidulina: Am Rande des Abgrunds; In Croce; De profundis; Quaternion

COMPOSERS: Gubaidulina
LABELS: Wergo
ALBUM TITLE: Gubaidulina
WORKS: Am Rande des Abgrunds; In Croce; De profundis; Quaternion
PERFORMER: Julius Berger (cello); Stefan Hussong (accordeon), Sofia Gubaidulina, Viktor Suslin (aquaphon), NiklasEppinger, Aleksandra Ohar, Diego Garcia, Yoohan Choi, Yoon-Jung-Hwang, Tai-Yang Zhang (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: WER 6684 2
On the Edge of Abyss, From the

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Deep, In the form of a Cross: the

titles of the pieces on this CD give fair warning that the contents will not be easy listening. They’re a reminder that Sofia Gubaidulina treats composition as a means of symbolising religious or spiritual themes. Conflicts between body and spirit, turmoil and peace are metaphorised in symbolic encounters between pure notes and impure noise, radiant major chords and turbid chromatic clusters.

For me Gubaidulina’s penchant for symbolism works best in her chamber works, because it’s there that her gift for teasing out unusual colours and sounds from instruments is most clearly revealed. Her music needs performers prepared to lavish endless care on producing minute shadings of timbre. And of course it needs recording engineers who will take equal care in capturing these fleeting sounds on disc. This CD is a triumph on both counts. The title piece is for an odd ensemble of seven cellists and two aquaphones, the latter making a sound of beguiling stillness and innocence amidst the turbulence of the cellists. The player who really stands out is Julius Berger, clearly a cellist of immense personality and rocksteady technique.

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Perhaps the most interesting piece is Quaternion, for four cellists, two of which are tuned a quarter-tone above the others. The only slight disappointment is that in two of the pieces, the prominent part for the folk accordion or bayan is played on the standard accordion, which lacks the bayan’s throaty richness. That aside, this is an excellent disc. Ivan Hewett