Gubaidulina, Kancheli

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Gubaidulina,Kancheli
WORKS: Viola Concerto, Styx
PERFORMER: Yuri Bashmet (viola); St Petersburg Chamber Choir, Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: 471 494-2
Yuri Bashmet confounds all the old viola-player jokes. Flamboyant and intense, he has rescued the viola from its reputation as the introverted nerd of the string family, and transformed it into an instrument for the communication of Byronic emotional drama. His approach doesn’t suit everything, but in the long rhetorical solos of Sofia Gubaidulina’s Viola Concerto he’s riveting. The tension generated between these powerful soliloquies and the dragging orchestral chant-theme that interrupts them over and over again proves astonishingly fertile – especially in the blistering Allegro that erupts towards the end of the concerto. Bashmet and Valery Gergiev’s performance left me convinced that this is a work of real stature. I’m not sure about Giya Kancheli’s Styx. That vein of exquisite sadness familiar from many other Kancheli works is mined again here, with some success – the use of the chorus is haunting. It’s the full-orchestral outbursts of violence and lamentation that leave me in doubt: isn’t it all rather crudely cinematic? Perhaps there’s an ironic intention here that I’ve missed. But that’s the trouble with irony: there’s always someone who misses the point – as this review may or may not be proof. The performance sounds full of conviction, though, and the recordings are first-rate. Stephen Johnson