Sofia Gubaidulina: Canticle Of The Sun

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Sofia Gubaidulina
ALBUM TITLE: Sofia Gubaidulina: Canticle Of The Sun
WORKS: Canticle Of The Sun; The Lyre Of Orpheus
PERFORMER: Gidon Kremer (violin), Nicolas Altstaedt (cello), Andrei Pushkarev, Rihards Zalupe (percussion), Rostislav Krimer (celeste); Riga Chamber Choir Kamēr/Māris Sirmais

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Gubaidulina’s Canticle of the Sun is a passionate and majestic setting of St Francis of Assisi’s great poem for solo cello, chorus and percussion, in which the cello frequently takes centre stage. It has been recorded before, notably by Mstislav Rostropovich (EMI), David Geringas (Chandos) and Pieter Wispelwey (Channel Classics). Despite such distinguished competition, Nicolas Altstaedt is fairly mesmerising in this new version, and the Riga Chamber Choir is extremely clear in its diction and alive to the work’s mercurial changes of texture and mood. I miss, however, the grandeur that Geringas brings to this visionary piece.

Less visionary but still in its way intensely mystical, the more recent The Lyre of Orpheus (2006) receives a superb world premiere recording from violinist Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica. Dedicated to the memory of Gubaidulina’s daughter Nadezhda, and the first of the Nadeyka trilogy of works in which Gubaidulina explores the acoustical phenomenon of ‘difference tones’ – in this case harmonies that produce, on the violin, the basic intervals of the Pythagorean system of tuning – The Lyre is something less than a violin concerto, rather a sensitive and sometimes vehement poetic meditation within a kaleidoscope of sounds. Kremer’s performance seems ideal.

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Calum MacDonald