SOFIA GUBAIDULINA (b.1931): String Quartets Nos. 1-4, Reflections on the theme B-A-C-H, String Trio, Piano Quintet, Rejoice! for Violin and Cello.
Catalogue Number: 01Q053
Reference: ACD2 2689
Description: The early (1957) Quintet is a student work, offering almost no indication of the adventurous path the mature composer would follow, aside from its obvious finely honed technical skill. Musically it is very much a tribute to Shostakovich (with the wryly witty marching scherzo clearly indebted to Prokofiev). Harmonically, in melodic contour, and emotional content the piece is for the most part very good imitation Shostakovich. However, the younger composer took full advantage of the continuing post-Stalinist 'Thaw', and after a brief flirtation with serialism, in 1971 she was incorporating aleatory, sonorism, extended playing techniques and (in live performance) theatrical action into her First Quartet. This work feels experimental, with the clearly defined pitches of conventional quartet writing subverted by glissandi, microtones and unconventional means of sound production; and there is a sense of isolation, even despair, underlined by the final gesture, when the players recede physically from one another as their material becomes increasingly unrelated and fragmented. The Second and Third Quartets were written back to back in response to simultaneous commissions in 1987, and they complement each other in content and technique. By this time the composer had achieved a more positive outlook 'for it was already impossible for the soul to survive in an overly negative world', and the music sounds more self-assured, its modernism now part of a confident, mature vocabulary. The compressed Second weaves increasingly active arabesques around a meterless sonorist examination of a single note, then resolves into a luminous tapestry of dense string tone, with a surprising degree of consonance, gradually ascending into the highest register. The third, by contrast, consists entirely of various pizzicato textures for almost half its total duration, creating a fragile, insubstantial landscape which gradually coagulates into more solid forms before giving way to an intense bowed climax, immediately replaced by a sustained meditation in long melodic gestures, trills and shimmering chords. The Fourth Quartet extends the ensemble considerably, by pitting the quartet against two pre-recorded versions of itself, which provide an eerie, rustling background of quarter-tone tuned sounds produced by small rubber mallets trembling against the strings. The live quartet becomes increasingly vehement and aggressive in overlapping, sweeping gestures, before finally subsiding, exhausted, conceding the field to the insect crepitation with a few resigned, dirge-like phrases. The Trio incorporates elements of the first three quartets, beginning with a single note flung around between the instruments, assailed by a hail of col legno fragments of sound, and fighting back with a succession of resounding chords and an accumulating tide of dissonant texture. A meditative slow movement of the utmost sparseness and austerity is followed by a vigorous, agitated finale which combines earlier ideas, ending with a disintegration that recalls the First Quartet. The five movements of the substantial sonata, Rejoice, bear superscriptions taken from aphorisms of the eighteenth century Ukrainian philosopher Grigory Skovoroda, which the music illustrates in a series of intricate dialogues which contrast earthly discourse and conflict (and in the last, rather tonal, movement, a celebratory dance) with a constant striving for stratospheric registers in calm chords and harmonics. 2 CDs. Quatuor Molinari, Louise Bessette (piano).