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Gubaidulina: In Croce

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1. In croce (for cello and organ)
2. Ten preludes (for solo cello)
3. Quaternion (for cello quartet)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A collection of three rather minor works for cello 13 Jun 2005
By Christopher Culver - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This Chandos disc contains three works by Russian-Tartar composer Sofia Gubaidulina, including a world-premier recording, and a variant arrangement of a more well-known piece. The works here seem to me to be on the periphery of Gubaidulina's oeuvre, only the first is overtly religious, while most of Gubaidulina's output is filled with the deepest Christian spirituality. However, the content is often pleasing, and the performers here, gathered around the impressive cellist Alexander Ivashkin, are quite talented.

"In Croce" (1979) is well-known in a 1991 arrangement for bayan and cello, but here we have the original version for organ and cello. The piece is an exploration of "vertical" music (the organ or bayan) intersected by the "horizontal" (cello), thus forming the cruciform symbolism so common in Gubaidulina's work. I much rather prefer the cello and organ version, for the organ just seems to work better than the bayan and the organ has a light and airy sound reminiscent of Gubaidulina "Hell und Dunkel" organ solo. Still, the bayan version on the Naxos recording is worth getting, since the cello part performed by Maria Kliegel there is less restrained than Ivashkin's but more passionately religious.

The collection "Ten Preludes" for solo piano (1974) began as a pedagogical exercise, and in fact were originally titled "Ten Etudes". The work has been performed many times since its premier in 1977, but here is especially admirable since Ivashkin, though usually not the best when it comes to feeling or spirituality, is an expert at technique. Each of the Preludes explores a single technique of bowing or plucking, but there is great artistry in the music. It is interesting to see Gubaidulina's first exploration of the techniques that would later play a great role in her "Canticle to the Sun" work for cello, choir, and orchestra.

"Quaternion" (1996) is a work for four cellos, two of which are tuned a quarter-tone higher than the others. When I first read a description of the piece, I assumed it would sound similar to Ligeti's "Ramifications", but it doesn't at all. "Quaternion" is a mostly meditative piece, and dissonance is found not only in the variant tunings, but also in a great deal of pizzicato and beating on the instrument. All in all, I find it is too long and slow. There's nothing wrong with dragging along for a while if it all works out in the end, as Gubaidulina's "Viola Concerto" does, but this work simply isn't successful.

This work would probably be a terrible introduction to Gubaidulina's music. If you've never heard her music before, try the Chandos disc with "Symphony: Stimmen Verstummen" or her masterpiece JOHANNES-PASSION. If you want to see what great cello writing Gubaidulina is capable of, get the recording of "The Canticle to the Sun" on EMI with Rostropovich. This Chandos disc can wait until you have already fallen in love with this fascinating composer.
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