Sharon Bezaly / Mie Miki / Torleif Thedéen / Mario Venzago

Sofia Gubaidulina: The Deceitful Face of Hope and of Despair; Sieben Worte

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Sofia Gubaidulina's The Deceitful Face of Hope and of Despair (2005) is stark, existential music, a weighty flute concerto cast in one continuous movement that lasts close to a half hour, and which challenges the emotions of the listener almost as much as it taxes the endurance of the soloist. If the title -- drawn from T.S. Eliot's penitential poem, "Ash Wednesday" -- suggests an agonized, spiritual struggle, then the music goes even further with its sparseness, darkness, and dryness to convey what may be some of the bleakest expressions and grayest colors since Shostakovich's late, requiem-like works. Its long solo part has a defenseless, desperate quality, and it is delivered here with honesty and vulnerability by flutist Sharon Bezaly, the dedicatee and recipient of the concerto; her affecting playing is devastating, especially when pitted against the calamitous forces of the closing measures. Sieben Worte (Seven Words) for cello, bayan, and strings (1982) is another grim composition that explores the meanings of Jesus' last sentences on the cross in purely abstract, instrumental terms. Since this work has more rhythmic activity, timbral variety, and textural density than the concerto, it makes a better claim on the listener's attention, yet seems less extraordinary for its rather predictable avant-garde techniques and its unsurprising references to liturgical music. Still, cellist Torleif Thedéen and accordionist Mie Miki give convincing performances, and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra under Mario Venzago is compelling in both works. Yet this 2006 SACD may frustrate all but the most dedicated audiophile, since BIS' wide frequency range is hard to appreciate on anything less than state-of-the-art equipment. Listeners with standard CD players will have to crank the volume up very high to hear the extremely soft opening of ...The Deceitful Face, but be prepared to adjust levels down quickly at the jarring climaxes. Headphones are strongly recommended.

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