Gubaidulina/Firsova

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COMPOSERS: Gubaidulina/Firsova
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Gubaidulina: Pro et contra; Firsova: Cassandra, Op. 60
PERFORMER: BBC National Orchestra of Wales/ Tadaaki Otaka
CATALOGUE NO: CD-668 DDD
Sofia Gubaidulina and Elena Firsova, both of whom have come to prominence in the post-glasnost era, share a liking for sonic extremity and a dark, mystical vision. This disc shows the former achieving an impressive tour de force, unmistakably her own, while the imagination of the younger Firsova still strains towards a personal synthesis.

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Gubaidulina’s music can appear to dwell in a darkness whose purpose is altogether mysterious: not so here. Pro et contra is a revelation. Its form can be seen as a church triptych: two short outer movements frame a centrepiece whose heart is the Russian orthodox Alleluia, in all its sombre glory. Melodic wisps wind their way inexorably towards and away from this chorale. The final, fugue-like movement weaves the far-flung sonorities together with tremendous energy. Gubaidulina’s experience of the medium shows in a score full of subtlety and ravishing beauty.

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Firsova’s Cassandra was written with the apprehension of contemporary Russians in mind. Ostensibly a lyrical cello concerto (with echoes of Shostakovich), it fractures into frenzied gestures. Thundering climaxes are driven by a bass drum, the brazen persistence of which seems unnecessary. Some further alchemy was needed here. Nevertheless, Otaka and the orchestra give riveting performances of both works.