Recording Date: 1991.08.05 + 1991.08.07
Recorded live at the Davos Music Festival, 1991.
Debute recording of the quartet ASTREJA consisting of the leading composers of academic avantgarde from the former Soviet Union: Sofia Gubaidulina, Victor Suslin, Valentina Ponomareva & Mark Pekarsky.
In typical fashion, Leo Feigin found what no one else would have dared dream existed: a recorded jam session by two of Russia's greatest living composers and two musical innovators who entered the fray seamlessly and contributed greatly. This CD was recorded at the Sixth Davos Festival in Russia. It brought together Sofia Gubaidulina and Victor Suslin with Mark Pekarsky and Valentina Ponomareva for an hour of completely improvised music on Caucasian and Central Asian folk instruments, such as dumbek, kemanchas, recorders, whistles, tars, autoharps, duduk, signal horns, bells of various sorts, and some new instruments from India such as tabla agogo, gopi, Jew's harp, and more. The results are four pieces of absolutely stirring beauty and creative invention from composers who had begun preparing themselves, in a way - the story is in the liner notes - to be improvisers in a band, some 16 years before. The music is quiet yet moves quickly in places and has great dramatic tension. There is no rhythm or meter because it is almost all rhythm. Stringed instruments as well as whistles and bells are used sparingly, and contribute more as drones for the percussion instruments to reveal their deeper shades. Ponomareva's voice, a languid soprano, is the timbral instrument; her wordless improvisations offer a tonal picture for cohesiveness to the airy and multivalent nature of this performance. (Think of Julie Tippet in a relaxed mode and you get the idea.) Divided into four sections, the audience gets a chance to catch its breath before being once again plunged into a world so mysterious and absent of identifiable language - even to the performers - it has to communicate by nuance, timbral echo, resonance, and deep listening. There are no rules but there are sightless guides in the differing tonalities of the instruments that had been experimented with for over a decade. The music made by Astreja here is unlike anything made by the composers in their formal works; it is unlike anything ever made anywhere, and is justifiably a treasure of this age.
All Music Guide
After listening to a couple of albums by the Astreja Ensemble (originally. Sofia Gubaidulina, Vyacheslav Artemov and Victor Suslin; later, the group's setting varied a bit around central musicians Victor Suslin and Gubaidulina), I have finally come to understand this notion made by many critics of Gubaidulina, namely, that she's trying to connect intuitively to pre-Christian musical customs in many of her works. Which, by the way, does not at all contradict her later religious convictions. Apparently, both concepts go hand in hand in her music.
The members of the Astreja group met in 1975 and started a collective using a vast array of unfamiliar traditional Russian music instruments: kanon, autoharp, tar, dutar, panduri, kernancha, zurna, duduk, drums, bells, gongs, guiro, maracas and many more which I was unable to decipher due to the eternal library stickers in the booklet. The number of instruments was reduced at the time of the aforelying live recording from Davos; both Gubaidulina and Suslin had emigrated to Germany after 1981 and could not possibly collect every single instrument they'd used during the fruitful years 1975-1981.
The Astreja collective meant to rely on their improvisational talents, which is (or used to be) quite uncommon practice in classical music. I'm sure many a lover of free jazz might appreciate this record just as much as more classically orientated listeners.
This was recorded live at the International Music Festival in Davos on 5th & 7th of August, 1991. When Gubaidulina joined Victor in Germany (they're neighbours in a little village near Hamburg, if I'm not mistaken), they picked up the habit again, found that the initial sparks and more importantly, the joy of instantly making music hadn't left them.
I've regularly read articles about Gubaidulina, who, perhaps more than others, openly dared to defy the rules set out by the rather strict Russian Ministry of Culture at the time. When she was told to not compose the way she did, she said she would compose the way she did, in spite of the troubles she might get.
Well, there are many photos around portraying her as quite a strong-willed personality. Look at those eyes full of determination. Against whomever's "No", I can well imagine her firmly outspoken "Yes" - and that's the end of the argument. Gubaidulina composed what she wanted to compose.
Pre-Christian music, I said? Yes. Listen to the music. This is pure Paganism. Weird, powerful music, strikingly original, and scarier than Igor's Sacre. Black magic. I do not doubt Valentina Ponomareva, a singer who I'll have to search for after listening to this disc, strongly adds to the atmosphere of the music.