October 2004

Sofia Gubaidulina: The Canticle of the Sun; Preludes for violoncello solo; In Croce for cello and bajan
Pieter Wispelwey, violoncello; Collegium Vocale Gent; Daniel Reuss, conductor; Members of the Prometheus Ensemble, An Raskin, bajan.
Channel CCS SA 20904
Released: 2004

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance *****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

Sofia Gubaidulina is a Russian composer who now lives in Germany. Almost unknown in the West until the Iron Curtain fell, her music is now in great demand by artists all over the world. Her music is very avant-garde, written for unusual instrumental combinations. The Canticle of the Sun is for cello, chorus, and percussion. It is a cello concerto without orchestra, and with singers. The latter sing Francis of Assisi’s words praising God, the sun, and creation, while also acknowledging death. The writing for cello, written for the 70th birthday of cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, is demanding. Pieter Wispelwey is up to its challenges, which include lots of playing of harmonics and a section where the cellist actually abandons his instrument and picks up a bass bow to play the flexatone! Wispelwey is also more than up to the task of playing the other two pieces contained on the disc. The Collegium Vocale Gent is a virtuoso choral ensemble with incredible range and ravishing tone, and the percussion and bajan playing is first-rate. The playing and singing on this SACD are as good as any that I have ever heard.

I have never heard a bad recording from Channel Classics. Producer and engineer C. Jared Saks seems to have ears every bit as good as those of the fine musicians he records. He has embraced the new advanced-resolution SACD format with a passion, and all-new Channel Classics recordings are being released as hybrid multichannel SACDs. The Gubaidullina sessions would have not been possible without digital processing. The soloist is required to play harmonics so softly that analog artifact noise would have drowned out the notes. DSD processing allows the listener to detect every nuance in performances that have hundreds of them. The soundstage is wide and deep and the surrounds are used sparingly, just enough to give one a good sense of space. The music is challenging to listen to, but the disc is as close to perfection as can be, making it much easier, over time, to get to know the pieces. I intend to do just that.