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The Independent Culture

Sofia Gubaidulina came of age as a musician during Stalin's last years. But light, it is said, shines more brightly in the dark and her light - something of a beacon in the dying days of the Soviet Union - was always a rich source of energy. It still is. All three works in this, the closing concert of her BBC weekend A Journey of the Soul were driven by it, all three distinguished by qualities that Russian musicians seem to possess by birthright: an innate theatricality and an unblinking, passionate directness. There isn't always very much on the page but what there is speaks directly to the senses. The subtext is all.

In his programme note, Paul Griffiths writes of Gubaidulina being "at war with the present on behalf of the future. She is at war with herself... throwing doubt into the wild mix that almost any work of hers will contain." The Light of the End is just such a mix. The conflict here is between nature and nurture, between that which is natural - symbolised by the BBC Symphony Orchestra horns using natural overtones - and that which is tempered and cultivated. Gusts and even mini-tornados in chromatic winds and strings convey an almost Hitchcockian sense of vertigo. Harps mark time but we lose sense of it. Until, that is, the bass tuba in its lowest register marks out just how far we have fallen, and a series of stratospheric glissandi flecked by piccolo and harps carry us to where the air is pure and the light intense. End of conflict.

But there's another one looming in Under the Sign of Scorpio, a concerto for bayan (a Russian accordion) and orchestra in which the gradual acceptance of an alien presence into the sacred confines of the Western orchestra seems to be at the heart of the drama. It's a kind of "Beauty and the Beast" courtship driven by the creepy advances of this Bela Lugosi of instruments, (under the fingers of the extraordinary Friedrich Lips) wheezing and shrieking or sighing and panting, and finally expiring with no sound at all, just air.

Gubaidulina does so need to earn her acceptance, her peace, her light. Alleluja might be the most faltering hymn of praise in 20th-century music. But the point is that Gubaidulina is still journeying; this soul is a long way from arriving.

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