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CD Review

Sofia Gubaidulina

Music for Bassoon

  • Duo Sonata
  • Quasi hoquetus
  • Concerto for bassoon and low strings
Valeri Popov & Mikhail Bochkov, bassoons
Alexander Bakhchiyev, piano
Natasha Gigashvili, viola
Russian State Symphony Orchestra/Pyotr Meshchaninov
Chandos CHAN9717 DDD 56:23
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All three of these works are dedicated to bassoonist Valeri Popov, who was their first performer in the years between 1975 and 1985. Popov's mastery of advanced playing techniques made him a man in demand among younger Soviet composers in that era, and it looks like Sofia Gubaidulina's contributions will be some of the most enduring.

The concerto is the earliest of the three works. It is a striking study in grey, in subtle gestures stated, combined, and recombined. There is no virtuosity for virtuosity's sake, although it would be a mistake to claim that the work is lacking in dramatic grandeur. Across its five-movement, 29-minute span, the emphasis is on weight and an almost iconic contemplation of the limited yet fecund thematic material. The strings of the Russian State Symphony Orchestra provide a dark, effective counterpoint to the soloist.

The Duo Sonata (1977) is even more cryptic. The two bassoonists balance the thematic contrasts implicit with sonata form against the tonal complementarity implicit within the duo. Gubaidulina calls upon the instruments to release some outlandish sounds in this work; cries, wails, and moans erupt in the middle section, but – unless I am missing the composer's intentions – a subtle sense of humor is never far off. Bochkov was a post-graduate student of Popov, so this recording is a union of sorts for them.

Quasi hoquetus, written in the mid-1980s, is the most approachable of the three works. A hocket is a pair (or more) of interlocking musical lines. Singly, they have melodic or rhythmic gaps that other lines fill in. This can result in a kind of ping-pongy, stereophonic effect. Gubaidulina's writing for the piano in this work is superb. Clusters and Messiaen-like arpeggios complement the darker colors of the viola and bassoon. The narrative structure carries the listener through the work's 15-minute span with hardly a moment's distraction. Pianist Bakhchiyev, with Popov, was one of the première performers. Gigashvili's viola-playing is in their same high league.

Gubaidulina's music is frequently puzzling but almost always rewarding, and she has found an excellent, eloquent spokesman in Popov. Although it's somewhat off the beaten path, I can recommend this CD to anyone interested in her music, to bassoon-fanciers, or to anyone with a liking for new sounds and ideas in music. Very entertaining!

Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle