Review Summary: sense that is hard to understand
Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina has always swung toward contemporary classical's more unusual end. Even early in her career, Gubaidulina infused her musical creations with a kind of quiet rebellion that held both eccentric edge and uncommon attack; crafted with ambition born of specific intent, commotion stirs beneath her compositions, which ponder domains beyond material musings. She pushes past every inch of physical gunk to find sensations that call for closer inspection. This need to transcend what she might call earth-born obstacles stems from her multi-ethnic upbringing in Soviet Russia. Although her birth nation afforded her no rest, facilitating and circulating poverty and discontent instead, Soviet Russia successfully validated all of her efforts to find and access a spiritual realm - one starkly different from her godless home of nearly 60 years.
Now in her mid-80s, Gubaidulina still searches for spirituality through her music. Rather than follow what should sound good to our ears, she tosses that brand of appeal away, maybe recognizing that God doesn't bow down to our most basic human
sensibilities. Conveying this, Repentance
carries religious underpinning; collecting and reinventing various works of hers from 1960 and onward, she forms suspicious combinations, experimenting with empty space and peculiar textures, as well as mixing instruments of contradictory sonic origins. However, for all of Gubaidulina's experimental and avante-garde inclinations, Repentance
doesn't succumb to style or labels. It is communication from composer to listener. If nothing else, her ability to express herself with such strength of vision is worthy of acclaim, as she remains vibrant, her sound ascending overhead any musician who performs her music, and ringing lucidly through every shift in style. Shortest and earliest composition, “Serenade,” shows Gubaidulina at her plainest, but easiest to read. Classical guitar tweaks, Spanish in mood, still evoke their composer's signature longing for elsewhere. Then, “Piano Sonata,” which was originally composed in 1965, adopts syncopated rhythms relevant to their period, but even these off-beat moments can't flee her mark. Omnipresent, some extra essence dwells in her compositions, regardless of whether they pair a rogue double bass and more casual-sounding guitar (“Repentance”) or hardly ever speak, vacant, only sustained by soft string tremolos, sparse plucks, and rare percussive currents (“Sotto voce”).
What is harder to identify is exactly what comprises that extra essence. But sort of similar to when someone brilliant opens their mouth, and some big thing
happens, which you can feel vibrating all around you even though you can't really understand what's going on, Gubaidulina's work projects a feeling of immense sense. Sense that I might never understand, but that exists
regardless. Just as always, Repentance
has it too.