Gubaidulina and Pärt Combined in a Magnificently Thought-Provoking Evening

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Gubaidulina, Pärt Sergej Krylov (violin); London Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra, Tönu Kaljuste (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London 6.11.2013 (CC)

Gubaidulina:  Offertorium
Pärt:  Magnificat.
Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten.

Part of the Southbank Centre’s ongoing The Rest Is Noise festival, this was a magnificently thought-provoking evening. Any doubts this reviewer might have harboured about programming juxtapositions were blown away by the complementary nature of Gubaidulina and Pärt.

The extended piece for violin and orchestra named Offertorium (1980) is a magnificent forty-minute edifice. Never one to offer any sense of compromise in her expression, this is a taxing score that weaves in Webern’s Klangfarben treatment of Bach into its material. Sergej Krylov has to contend with the fact that the piece was premiered and championed by the great Gidon Kremer; add to this the fact that the composer was present in the audience in this high-level venue, and the result must surely have been huge pressure. Moscow-born Krylov seemed to repeatedly throw his whole body weight into his playing. Kaljuste seemed perfectly attuned to Gubaidulina’s unremittingly intense sound-world: chthonically seething musical surfaces and magnificently rendered gestures were all, interestingly, shot through with a core of late Romanticism. Krylov was capable of a huge sound in the cadenzas. Again, one was aware of an underlying lyricism. The remarkable emergence of the chorale is a theatrical masterstroke. Offertorium is a magnificent edifice. For Gubaidulina, Bach’s music seems to represent the apex of the purest spirituality, and is seamlessly, and seemingly effortlessly, integrated into her expressive world.

After the raw depths of Gubaidulina, the quasi-minimalist, chant-influenced tintinabulisms of Pärt emerged with heightened purity of intent. Differences between the two composers actually underlined the strengths of each.  It was a lovely touch to link the first two Pärt pieces together. The brief (seven-minute) Magnificat of 1989 featured a beautifully blended London Philharmonic Choir. The delicate tissue of the female-voice opening was rendered as beautifully floating by the ladies of the LPC. The choir as a whole was beautifully blended, blossoming into a glorious “Suscepit Israel”. The bell that launched the Cantus seemed merely to introduce, for all intents and purposes, an instrumental prolongation of the Magnificat. Like parts of the Gubaidulina, the Cantus seemed to glow from within.

Choir and string orchestra met in the Berlin Mass (1990). There was much to admire here from all sides, the entire devotional effect scuppered, though, by the Festival Hall’s unresponsive, dry acoustic. Pared down contributions from the choir were most impressive, all part of the vast emotional scope of this remarkable work. The darker side of the Mass was honoured in the Sanctus, a disturbing take on the text that almost threatens to disintegrate at one point. The delicacy of the final, brief, Agnus Dei made a terrific impact.

This is the sort of stimulating fare that can make concert going such a joy. Microphones were present, and one can only hope that some, or all, of this concert will make it to disc on the LPO’s own label.

Colin Clarke







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