|detail from The Last Supper by Nikolai Ge, 1861|
The first couple of movements establish the main instruments with a swirling drone advancing like angry hornets - or indeed like Kraftwerk via Zeitkratzer. Melancholy pleading strings fill in the quieter moments, continuing into the third as the cello scrapes away and the bayan stabs in mortal pain (Mel Gibson, you missed a trick not using this as a Passion soundtrack!). The longest section at the centre, the fourth movement, increases the anguish and urgency all round with chromatic spirals from the bayan and more choppy, frenzied cello and strings. The sounds in the fifth movement are truly astounding - think it's the bayan making that buzzing drone? Zeitkratzer have to do an interpretation of this.
The second work in this collection dates from 1969, and was recorded in '79. Rubayat opens with unsettling percussion reminiscent of Bartok's Music For String, Percussion and Celesta, before the ensemble introduces the baritone singing ancient Persian verses. For Gubaidulina, the choice of texts here was meant to convey the universality of spiritual longing - also apparently one of the reasons she liked all that rising and falling chromaticism, of which there's plenty in the orchestral passages.
Lastly on this collection we get to hear the composer herself operating the legendary ANS, the Russian photoelectric proto-synthesiser that reached many people's consciousness (including mine) in recent years via Coil. Vivente-Non Vivente was composed in 1970, and the recording date given here is 1988. The device's printed and scratched glass plates evoke an eerie, swishing and blooping dark ambience that sounds truly otherworldly, especially in Gubaidulina's hands.