The Strad Issue: August 2015
Description: Vivid, intense playing in Gubaidulina’s chamber music
Musicians: Molinari Quartet, Louise Bessette (piano)
Composer: Gubaidulina

Currently quartet-in-residence at Montreal’s Conservatory of Music, Canadian foursome the Molinari Quartet’s double-disc survey of string chamber music by Tatar-born composer Sofia Gubaidulina makes for exhausting listening, and it’s probably best taken in small doses. But that’s testament to the players’ exceptionally intense, focused performances throughout. Gubaidulina’s music often relies on drama in its most fundamental form – raw contrasts between blunt opposites or anguished, glissando-laden melodic lines – and on that level the Molinari players hardly put a foot wrong.

They give a silky-smooth account of the episodic First Quartet, with an exceptionally clear, precisely articulated approach that carries over into the rest of these performances. The remarkable range of pizzicato sounds that the players achieve in the opening of their enormously spirited Third Quartet particularly stands out, as does their battle to overcome two rival taped quartets in the theatrical Fourth Quartet. Even the early Piano Quintet, a student work that owes a huge debt to Shostakovich, gets a thrillingly compelling performance which shines a bright light on the nascent timbral elements that would so preoccupy the composer’s later music – in the vividly etched clusters that close the first movement’s development, for example. Pianist Louise Bessette is bright and clear without being overdramatic in the stomping first movement, and supple in a limpid slow movement.

Paradoxically, though, the fact that everything sounds so pristine and effortless ends up detracting from the spiritual struggles that are so often behind Gubaidulina’s music – as though the fight has already been won. Nevertheless, these are exceptionally fine performances, captured in warm, faithful sound.

David Kettle