Born in 1931 in the Soviet Tartar Republic into a family part Muslim Tartar, part Polish-Russian, Sofia Gubaidulina feels that her musical language is rooted in this culturally and ethnically mixed background. She has experimented with improvisation and unusual timbres and sound effects, using both conventional and unconventional instruments, some of which she designed herself. Much of this is on display here.
"Canticle," written for Rostropovich, asks the cellist to climb to stratospheric heights, as well as to tune his C string down as low as possible. He's also to use not only his bow, but a double bass bow and a flexatone, a metal instrument producing a tremolo effect; to play near the bridge, even on the bridge; and to produce innumerable slides of various speeds. The voices, singly and together in rhythmic unison, respond to the cello, joined and supported by a fascinating array of sounds from the instruments. The Latin text is taken from St. Francis of Assisi, but it's not really sung through. The other piece, conducted by Rostropovich, is scored for several flutes of different sizes and materials, from wood to gold, which, aided by various percussion instruments, also produce every kind of sound effect. The music is basically formless, without direction or development, all color, texture, and atmosphere. It makes a predominantly otherworldly impression, which seems to reflect the composer's personality, who for the last decade has been living and working in a small cottage in the German countryside in undisturbed seclusion. She has become almost a cult figure and her works are played by the greatest artists. The performances on this disc, dominated by Rostropovich and Pahud, are superb, masterly, and committed. --Edith Eisler