Sofia Gubaidulina: The Canticle of the Sun
by St. Francis of Assisi;
Hommage à Marina
Stefan Parkman, the Danish National Choir (Chandos)
2004 Time Out New York review
Primal sounds dominate Russian-Tatar composer Sofia Gubaidulina’s 1997 The Canticle of the Sun. A setting of St. Francis’s poem, believed to be the earliest literary text in Italian, the work celebrates the elements, life and death. Gubaidulina, who first won fame for her experimental work with folk and ritual instruments, summons a staggeringly inventive palette of timbres for this classic of Western mysticism.
The wondrous, inchoate response of the choir to the cello’s opening glissandos, suggesting the first timid stirrings of life, gives way to bursts of polytonal splendor that rival the greatest choral works of the Renaissance. The shimmering mist of sound for the evocation of Christian forgiveness includes flexatone (a metal blade), glass harmonica and the throbbing notes of the cello played with a wooden stick.
Hommage à Marina Tsvetayeva (1984), for a cappella choir, is also a meditation on first and last things. Here, Gubaidulina uses a slightly more conventional musical language but treats the texts with startling freedom, ranging from the impressionistic surges of “Below the Waves” to the shardlike scattering of verses in “Horse.” Cellist David Geringas and the Danish National Choir offer passionately committed performances, captured in warm, clean sound by Chandos.