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Gubaidulina: The Canticle Of The Sun Etc.

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Product details

  • Conductor: London Symphony Orchestra, Ryusuke Numajiri
  • Composer: Sofia Gubaidulina
  • Audio CD (6 Aug. 2001)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: EMI Classics
  • ASIN: B00005MIZC
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 131,638 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ivar de Vries on 28 July 2007
Format: Audio CD
Although it uses a religious text by Francis of Assisi celebrating God/Nature, the Canticle of the Sun sounds just as much like some ancient pagan ritual, I've seen it performed like that as well. It has quite a meditative feel at times but there's also a narrative going on. The lead voice performed by the cello continually engages the voices and percussion to join in, at first hesitantly but growing more confident, until some sort of crisis sets in where the cellist abandons his instrument to instead rally the troops using striking high shrieking sounds over a long-held celeste sound. The cello is taken up again in one final push towards the end where it withers away in the higher regions, having done its work. This lead voice is excellently performed by the recently deceased Rostropovich, to whose sunny nature the piece is dedicated according to a personal note by the composer.
There have been at least a couple later recordings issued of the canticle, but unique to this disc is the Music for Flute, Strings and Percussion, where the lead voice being a flute makes it sound more Eastern in character. It has plenty of lively interplay between the instrument groups plus some imaginative solo passages for the flute, at some point the microphone appears to be stuck right inside it!
Both pieces share a similar type of narrative and have a real flow to them (in modern music terms anyway) making this probably one of the best discs to become acquainted with Sofia Gubaidulina's work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By xxsfgsvs TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 15 Mar. 2010
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I'm sorry to sound boring but I agree with every word of Ivar de Vries' review. I have several Gubaidulina cds but this is the best by some way. A problem in some of Gubaidulina's("SG" - it's a long name to type!)is that they can sound very static and dry. These two works carry the main hallmarks of her work; a strong sense of structure to the point of ritual (this works particularly well in these religiously based works); delicate chromatic melodic lines; timbre.

It's true that the music for Flute, Strings and Percussion doesn't have a religious title but SG professes that the same spiritual view is reflected in both, and many other of her works.

What is pretty extraordinary is the lengths SG has gone to develop new and original sound colours in these works. Several of todays greatest composers have spent years of study and research in Paris at the IRCAM centre. This super technology has led them to make many discoveries about sound properties and has led to the founding of the Spectralist movement that influences yet more composers in Europe mainly.

I may be wrong but I think that SG has never been near the place and hasn't used it in her development of new timbre from familiar intruments. She has the most inquisitive mind and open ears to discover and make work a host of new timbre (at one point Rostropovich's cello sounds more like a didgeridoo!). It is quite something again to be able to build structures in which these work convincingly without ever sounding like gimmicks - they're always sounding integral to the work. SG is a very serious composer and gimmicks are a million miles away from her outlook. Given that so many very fine composers have developed their work through study at IRCAM it makes SGs achievement seem all the more remarkable.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Cello and flute featured in two outstanding works 8 Aug. 2004
By Autonomeus - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Mstislav Rostropovich on cello and Emmanuel Pahud on flute are the central figures in these two recent works by Sofia Gubaidulina, one of the best composers of our time. "The Canticle of the Sun" (1997) is a religious work which uses the text of the title by St. Francis. The London Voices intone the words reverently, without inflection. As the composer says, "This is the glorification of the Creator and His Creation by a very humble, simple Christian friar. I tried, therefore, to make the choral part very restrained, even secretive and to put all the expression in the hands of the cellist and the percussionists." Rostropovich is certainly expressive, and this is a unique and uniquely powerful 45-minute work, a great example of Gubaidulina's singular vision.

"Music for Flute, Strings and Percussion" is a very dramatic work, radically different from "Canticle," with huge menacing tuttis from the orchestra, and bold, loud passages for the flutes of Emmanuel Pahud -- he plays flute, alto flute, bass flute and piccolo. In this 30-minute work, Gubaidulina has divided the orchestra into two halves, one half tuned a quarter-tone lower than the other. These represent light and shadow, yet another device found by Gubaidulina to express her metaphysical vision. "Music for Flute" comes closer to the traditional concerto form than "Canticle," but it is another highly original work.

I highly recommend this disc to anyone interested in the music of Sofia Gubaidulina.

There are a couple of minor problems with EMI's production that should be noted. First, the tracking was not done correctly. "Canticle" has 11 movements, and "Music for Flute" has 3, for 14 total, but the disc only has 9 tracks. So track 9 includes the last 3 movements of "Canticle" (about 8 minutes worth), and the entirety of "Music for Flute." This is annoying, because it means it is impossible to program either piece separately.

I would also like to go on record as saying that EMI's art department should be replaced. This is another terrible cover for an EMI disc, with an atrocious font and the titles splayed in the ugliest possible way, superimposed on a drab background. Worse, there is actually a pile of letters at the bottom of the front of the booklet, and another on the back of the booklet -- whoever thought this was a cutting edge design concept should not be allowed near the production area again. Luckily the music inside this ugly package is radiantly beautiful!
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Gubaidulina's biggest work of the 90's in definitive performance 19 July 2005
By Christopher Culver - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This EMI disc contains the world-premiere recordings of two pieces by the profoundly religious Russian-Tatar composer Sofia Gubaidulina. "Canticle to the Sun" is a work for cello, percussion, and choir based on the poem of Francis of Assisi, written for the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. It is sung here by the London Voices conducted by Ryusuke Numajiri, with the dedicatee on cello. "Music for Flute, Strings, and Percussion" is just that, performed by members of the London Symphony Orchestra with Emmanuel Pahud on various flutes, conducted by Rostropovich.

"Canticle to the Sun" (1997) is one of Gubaidulina's largest works of the 1990s, and is based on a wonderful inspiration. The poem of Francis of Assisi is perhaps the first work of Italian literature and one of the world's all-time great artistic creations. In it the friar, composing in his Umbrian dialect, glorifies God calling as witnesses the sun, the moon, the stars, water, fire, the earth, life, and even death. The cello is the centre of the piece, its music carries the praise of God upwards through ascending notes and underscores the awesomeness of God's power through haunting descents. However, the cellist occasionally gives up his independent role, emulating the percussionists by beating his instrument with a stick, and even joining them when he puts down his bow and plays a bass drum with a rubber ball.

Gubaidulina says that, recognising that Francis of Assisi was a humble man, she wrote the choral part such that it would stay in the background, putting most of the expression into the writing for cello. I would say she only partially succeeded. Granted, the reading of the text is humble and simple, but most of the moments of ecstasy in the piece come when the choir sings vocalisations ("ah ah ah"). Do you know the choral moment at the end of her JOHANNES-PASSION after the baritone soloist sings "Svershilos'"? That's the sort of rapture we are occasionally treated to here.

This work has been around for less than a decade, but there are already three recordings available. We may take this one as definitive, as Gubaidulina supervised the performance and the cellist who inspired the work performs. The London Voices give a beautifully metaphysical performance, and Rostropovich's cello playing is impeccable. As for the other recordings, on Chandos we find a performance by the Danish National Choir conducted by Stefan Parkman with David Geringas on cello, while on Channel Classics there is a performance by Collegium Vocale Gent conducted by Daniel Reuss with Pieter Wispelwey on cello. Though I do not think their performances of "Canticle" stack up to this one, they are worth seeking out for the other pieces they feature. The Chandos disc has the ghostly a capella "Hommage a Marina Tsvetaeva", while the Channel Classics disc has the "Ten Preludes" for cello and "In Croce" for bayan and cello.

"Music for flutes, strings, and percussion" (1994) is a much more difficult work than the highly-accessible "Canticle", but seems greatly rewarding on repeat listens. It is one of Gubaidulina's few works using flute, and here Pahud plays piccolo, flute, alto flute and bass flute. The flute provides most of the expression in the work. The strings, one half of which is tuned a quarter-tone lower than the other for the well-known "light and dark" effect, serve to set up new material for the flutes to reflect upon. The use of the strings in the work is quite reminiscent of the composer's "Seven Words", and if I'm not mistaken there's a quotation here from that work. Percussion is very restrained, totally absent for most of the work. "Music for flutes..." ends with the musicians creating exotic sounds by breating through their instruments. As the cellist joins the percussionists in "Canticle to the Sun", here the strings ultimately approximate themselves to the flautist. In the end, this proves one of the composer's best instrumental works of the 90's, and it is a pity that it is programmed here after a long and demanding piece, meaning most listeners won't have the energy left to appreciate it.

The liner notes are a bit odd. There are two biographies of the composer within, the second of which doesn't really add anything new after the first. Then there is the problem that the first issue of the disc had botched track division, where the last part of "Canticle to the Sun" and the first movement of "Music for Strings..." are on the same track. This was corrected in later productions of this disc, but maybe your retailer has held this for a while. The only other complaint I have is that Rostropovich's laboured breathing is audible in "Canticle to the Sun".

If you have never heard Gubaidulina's work, "Canticle to the Sun" may be a good introduction, though I think that her symphony "Stimmen ...Verstummen" or her masterpiece JOHANNES-PASSION is even better. "Canticle" is one of her grandest and inventive pieces, and deserves an early place in your exploration of this greatest of contemporary composers.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Tremendous works from one of the best 26 Nov. 2001
By C. P. Cooman - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Sofia Gubaidulina is one of the greatest living composers. She makes use of a full range of expressive musical techniques (including unusual means of sound production) for maximum emotional effect and power. Her use of avant-garde elements in her music is always at the service of a unique and extensive musical vision -- never simply for shock value.
This disc contains two excellent compositions from the 1990's. The "Canticle of the Sun", a cello concerto (with chorus and percussion instead of orchestra), is a powerful and moving setting of the famous text by St. Francis of Assisi. The colors and mystery evoked throughout are truly stunning.
"Music for Flute, Strings, and Percussion" is a highly evocative flute concerto, using a double string orchestra (one string group tuned a quarter tone lower than the other) to build impressive edifices of sound.
Performances are excellent.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Remarkable 15 Jun. 2011
By G.D. - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Sofia Gubaidulina has risen to become regarded as perhaps the most significant Russian, post-Soviet composer. Her music is indeed remarkable, employing sonic explorations and avant-garde techniques (extended playing techniques etc) set against a backdrop firmly rooted in the traditions of her homeland. The results are thoroughly impressive and thoroughly convincing - I have yet to come across a gesture in Gubaidulina's music that strikes me as gimmicky, even though descriptions of the works in advance of hearing them will easily make one suspect gimmickery.

The Canticle of the Sun (based on St. Francis of Assisi), for cello, percussion (including celesta) and chamber choir, is cast in four sections (the Creator of the sun and the moon, the Creator of the elements, Life and Death). The overall impression is one of meditative restraint, but it is a colorful and rather intense work. It is certainly not easy music, but it creates a soundscape resembling little else, and the work is overall profoundly rewarding. It receives a wonderful performance here, with Rostropovich as cellist, percussionist and conductor; I do not have anything to compare it with, but the one at hand is marvelously sensitive to the composer's subtle, captivating and unusual textures and transitions between textures.

The Music for Flute, Strings, and Percussion is more extrovert and dramatic. Less immediately captivating than the Canticle, it is another beautiful work, but one where angst and drama seem ever present behind the curtains when not explicitly in the foreground. Against the unusually tuned strings (half of them tuned a quarter-tone down), Pahud plays four different flutes and manage to create a remarkable variety of contrasts. The performances are, as suggested, again extremely compelling. The sound is excellent as well. (Is Pahud sometimes a little too forwardly placed, however?) Two great works, then, immaculately played and presented and hence adding up to a truly magnificent release.
A strange but fascinating work that probably appeals to a very personal musical taste 11 Sept. 2015
By John J. Puccio - Published on
Format: Audio CD
I want to commend this EMI recording of prizewinning Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina's 1997 work The Canticle of the Sun for one thing in particular: it gave me one of the best snoozes I've had in many afternoons. About fifteen minutes into the forty-minute piece I fell asleep on the couch, and twenty minutes later when I awakened I swear I was taking up right where I'd left off. I gave it a second chance, of course, but it wasn't much better for me. Let us say, then, that it's a strange but fascinating work that probably appeals to a very personal musical taste, and that taste may very well be more yours than mine.

Ms. Gubaidulina, who admits to being a "profoundly spiritual person," based The Canticle of the Sun on a text by Saint Francis of Assisi, and the composer dedicated the work to cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who here leads the London Symphony Orchestra in another of their meticulous performances. I believe this 2001 disc was the work's premiere recording.

I have mentioned before that I have little understanding of or appreciation for much modern music. Certainly, my limitations as a critic of such music are no more in evidence than with this piece: I found Ms. Gubaidulina's work repetitive and not a little tedious; yet at the same time I did not find her minimalist view at all disconcerting or inharmonious as so much modern music can be. Indeed, some of Ms. Gubaidulina's piece is quite beautiful. Her seemingly random selection of slowly played cello notes, percussion dings, and eerie vocal phrasings actually demonstrate a certain brilliance, and there is no questioning Ms. Gubaidulina's sincerity or the LSO's intensity.

Ms. Gubaidulina writes in a booklet insert that she was trying to "reveal the sunny personality of a brilliant musician, Mstislav Rostropovich." Well, there you could have fooled me; the music seems anything but sunny. She also writes, "Under no circumstances should the expression of this canticle be intensified by music." I'd say she succeeded there beyond expectation. "This is the glorification of the Creator and His Creation by a very humble, simple Christian friar." This would account for the seeming simplicity of the music, I suppose, but I hope that the good Saint Francis was not so unusual as I found some of Ms. Gubaidulina's material.

On the other hand, I quite liked the Music for Flute, Strings, and Percussion, which Gubaidulina wrote in 1994. Although it tends to go on at times for too long, occasionally losing its rhythm, it exhibits an honest and uplifting soul in its more-accessible sonorities, helped no doubt by Mr. Pahud's playing.

Anyway, as I say, lovers of contemporary classical music will undoubtedly vilify me for not understanding much of Ms. Gubaidulina's Canticle; I stand open to the criticism and admit my ignorance. The work seldom entertained, uplifted, or enlightened me in the way I'm sure the composer intended. Indeed, until I read Ms. Gubaidulina's notes afterwards, I had no idea what she was up to. And then, after I read her notes, I still didn't know what it was about. Nevertheless, I cannot suggest that other listeners should not try it for themselves, especially when the accompanying work is so haunting.

In its favor, too, I can say assuredly that EMI recorded the music exceptionally well. The cello and flute sound most natural, the percussion is clean and transparent, and the voices are realistically integrated into the aural stage. For lovers of pure sound alone, the disc may prove a worthwhile investment. More important, fans of modern music may also find the disc of interest.

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor
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