There is a recurrent theme running through the program presented by the Dena Piano Duo in this production; all four composers and works have a particular relationship to Edvard Grieg. Both Johannes Brahms and Camille Saint-Saëns were friends of Grieg, and in several of his works the inspiration Grieg gained from his colleagues in Vienna and Paris is easy to hear. In between the works of Brahms and Saint-Saëns the Dena Piano Duo play two Norwegian works they have commissioned from the composers Wolfgang Plagge and Terje Bjørklund with this recording in mind.
Catherine Anahid Berberian (July 4, 1925 – March 6, 1983) was an American soprano and composer. She interpreted contemporary avant-garde music composed, among others, by Luciano Berio, Bruno Maderna, John Cage, Henri Pousseur, Sylvano Bussotti, Darius Milhaud, Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, and Igor Stravinsky. She also interpreted works by Claudio Monteverdi, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Kurt Weill, Philipp Zu Eulenburg, arrangements of songs by The Beatles, and folk songs from several countries and cultures. As a composer, she wrote Stripsody (1966), in which she exploits her vocal technique using comic book sounds (onomatopoeia), and Morsicat(h)y (1969), a composition for the keyboard (with the right hand only) based on Morse code.
When in the first decade of the twentieth century, pioneering Russian creative artists turned to the sun for inspiration, they saw this theme as a symbol of liberation from turn-of-the-century decadence. In The Canticle of the Sun the power of the sun celebrates two liberating forces: specifically, the dedicatee, Mstislav Rostropovich, who shed light in the darkness of the later Soviet years (Gubaidulina has even spoken of the work embodying his ‘sunny personality’) and more generally, the spiritual sources which the composer has explored through her own musical journey within and beyond Soviet Russia. The Canticle of the Sun is a response to a text by St Francis of Assisi, in which he humbly glorifies the creator. Gubaidulina, aware that the music should not be ostentatious or complicated, suggests the mysteries of creation and humanity through solo cello and percussion, and places St Francis’s text in the restrained mouths of the choir as a kind of wondering response. The second work on this disc is a setting of five poems by Marina Tsvetayeva for unaccompanied choir.