Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Sofia Gubaidulina, Part 14

I see that I have not put up a post on Gubaidulina since April 9! Past time to continue this series which began in December last year.

The next piece in her series of religiously inspired works is In Croce (1979, revised in 1992). This was written quite quickly, commissioned for a performance in Kazan. The original version was for cello and organ, but it has also been performed with bayan and accordion replacing the organ part. Gubaidulina says:
In that particular combination I imagined the organ as a mighty spirit that sometimes descends to earth to vent its wrath. The cello, on the other hand, with its sensitively responsive strings is a completely human spirit. The contrast between these two opposite natures is resolved spontaneously in the symbol of the cross. I accomplished this first of all by criss-crossing the registers (the organ takes the line downward, the cello upward); secondly, by juxtaposing the bright major sonorities of natural harmonics, played glissando, and expressive chromatic inflections.
Here is a performance with cello and accordion with Julius Berger, violoncello and Stefan Hussong, accordion:

After a couple of intervening works, the next piece in the series is Offertorium for violin and orchestra which brought the composer world-wide recognition. The seed for the composition probably came from a casual remark by violinist Gidon Kremer, just becoming famous in his own right, when he shared a taxi with the composer after a concert in Moscow: "Wouldn't you like to write a violin concerto?" She made a study of what she called his "musical signature," the way he handled extreme contrasts and the transitions between them, but above all the surrender to and focus on the tone. In keeping with the idea of offering, the work uses the "Royal theme" from Bach's Musical Offering.
The violin concerto consists of three continuous movements. In the first movement the theme disintegrates step by step in a succession of variations: in each instance one single note of the theme is omitted at both the beginning and the end, until, in the second movement, which is not thematically related, only the pitch E remains. "You cannot be reborn until you have died." In the third movement, in the "Chorale," a seemingly new theme emerges one note at a time in the bass line of the harp and the piano which eventually--in the closing violin passage--turns out to be the original theme in retrograde. "The first shall be last and the last shall be first." [quoted from Kurtz, op. cit. pp 149-50]
The way the theme is orchestrated in the beginning, in pointillistic style with each note on a different instrument, is a homage to the other main influence: Anton Webern's orchestration of the Musical Offering.

The score was completed in March 1980 but not performed until May 1981. Gubaidulina's disfavor with the Soviet authorities (not to mention Gidon Kremer's refusal to return to the Soviet Union) meant that the score had to be smuggled out. Kremer, the dedicatee, managed to arrange a first performance at the Wiener Festwochen. The conductor was the Finnish conductor and composer Leif Segerstam. After this performance, which perhaps suffered from insufficient rehearsal time, the composer made some cuts in the work. The new version was given by the Berlin Philharmonic under the direction of Charles Dutoit a year later and in this iteration has been enormously successful.

Here is a performance by Gidon Kremer with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Dutoit:

And here is a live performance by Vadim Repin, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski:

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