The Canticle of the Sun (2004)


Pieter Wispelwey

Daniel Reuss

She was imprisoned for many years behind the iron curtain, but after the walls collapsed she became a much-praised composer, particularly in the west: Sofia Gubaydulina. Born in 1931 in Tatarstan, the composer studied piano and composition at the Kazan conservatory, and later continued in composition with Nikolai Peiko and Vissarion Shebalin at the Moscow conservatory.

Until 1992 she lived in Moscow; nowadays she lives in her house in the country, in Appen, near Hamburg. Valery Gergiev gave the world premiere of Gubaydulina’s St. John Passion, a major work for soloists, choir, organ, and orchestra, composed for the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death, and dedicated to Gergiev and the chorus and orchestra of the Mariinski Theatre of St. Petersburg. Since then he has repeated the work a number of times, including a performance in 2002 in his capacity as principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic. Working for many years in complete isolation and without much official recognition, Gubaydulina produced an extensive and avant-garde instrumental oeuvre for the most unusual instrumental combinations. Since her move to Germany, she has composed one surpassingly inspired work after another. 

One of them is ‘The canticle of the sun’ (1997), a cello concerto which is actually a hybrid between cello concerto and choral music, and in fact even more than that: the piece is based on ‘Il cantico frate sole’, the Hymn to Brother Sun of Francis of Assisi, a song of praise dedicated to God, to the sun, to all of creation, but also to death ‘da la quale nullo homo vivente può scappare’ (from which no man can escape). Gubaydulina composed ‘The canticle of the sun’ for the 70th birthday of a man who was, in her words, "the greatest cellist of the 20th century", "Slava" or Mstistlav Rostropovich, a musician "with a sun-drenched personality". The work lasts a bit less than 40 minutes and consists of four movements. The first is dedicated to the Creator of the sun and moon, the second to the Creator of the four elements, the third to life, and the fourth to death. In order not to compromise the character of St Francis, holy in the eyes of the composer, she has limited the contribution of the chamber choir and kept it somewhat enigmatic, and delegated the most powerful expression to the cello part and the percussion section. In this way the choir’s contribution has a fragmentary and coloristic effect. In the course of the piece, the cellist has to play at a lower and lower pitch until he reaches the bottom of his range. After that he must still bring forth some scraping sounds by playing below the bridge, rattling a drum, and playing a flexatone with a double bass bow. 

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Pieter Wispelwey

Pieter was born in Haarlem in the Netherlands in 1962 and grew up with his two younger brothers in Santpoort, where his parents still live. At the age of 19 he moved to Amsterdam and has remained in the same 17th century house on the Noordermarkt ever since. Pieter's diverse musical personality is rooted in the training he received-firstly from regular exposure from a very early age to his father's amateur string quartet when they rehearsed at the Wispelwey home, to lessons with Dicky Boeke and Anner Bylsma in Amsterdam followed by studies with Paul Katz in the USA and William Pleeth in the UK. It was also Dicky Boeke who encouraged him to listen to as much music as possible but particularly sowed the seeds for his love of Renaissance music (Italian and English madrigalists!) and German Lied. These genres, particularly the performances of Dietrich Fischer Diskau, have been a constant source of inspiration for Pieter. In 1990 his first recording with Channel Classics, The Bach Cello Suites, was released to great acclaim and in 1992 he was the first cellist ever to receive the Netherlands Music Prize, which is endowed upon the most promising young musician in the Netherlands; thus his path was secured to the busy and varied career he has today.

Pieter has always been at home on the modern cello with metal and/or gut strings as he is on the baroque 4 string and 5 string cello. Therefore he covers a repertoire from JS Bach to Elliott Carter drawing on a palett of sounds and colours available from his range of instruments, string set-ups and bows. Having grown up in an age and country where hearing period instruments was very much the norm for concert-goers, Pieter naturally developed his conviction that, in the right conditions, much 18th and 19th century music sounds far better on gut strings than on metal. However he is not a purist in the sense that if conditions are less than ideal (no fortepiano, too big a hall, too hot, too humid, too dry acoustically etc.) then he is more than happy to pick up his modern cello with metal strings (which therefor is quite often the case).

Recitals have always played a major part in Pieter's concert diary. As a recitalist with piano, he has all the main repertoire at his disposal which is always ready for performance, often at very short notice. He is not, and has never been, the type of soloist who tours the world with one or two recital programmes and a couple of concertos per season. On the contrary, a typical week in Pieter's life (if one can be said to exist) could well include the Bach suites, with perhaps 2 different recital programmes, a couple of concerto appearances with a student masterclass thrown in for good measure! He has appeared as recitalist all over the world including the Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), Wigmore Hall (London), Chatelet (Paris), Teatro Colon (Buenos Aires) and Sydney Opera House. Future exciting engagements include Bach and Britten suites at the Lincoln Centre, New York and a return visit to the Edinburgh Festival.

Pieter has appeared with a variety of orchestras and ensembles both with and without conductors. Notable projects without conductors have been the touring and recording of the Schumann and Shostakovich cello concertos with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. This orchestra has, without doubt, provided for Pieter the happiest and most satisfying musical collaborations of his career to date, not least due to the genius of leader and musical director, Richard Tognetti. He has also appeared, with conductor, with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC symphony orchestra, the Russian National Symphony, Camerata Academica Salzburg, Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen to name but a few and has recorded with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. Future engagements with orchestras include the Halle, the Japan Philharmonic, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Herbert Blomstedt and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Marc Minkowsky.

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The Canticle of the Sun (2004)


Pieter Wispelwey

Un indispensable album pour les férus de musique contemporaine. Cinéfonia (…) Pieter Wispelwey se distingue par son émotion continue, ses traits ciselés et la subtilité de ses nuances. (…) Le Monde de la Musiques (…) He brings to it the most ecstatically spiritual sound I have ever heard from a cello. Firm, lithe and luminous, his tone complements the Collegium Vocale perfectly. (…)

    American Record Guide

Wispelwey's feeling for continuity and mood is so good that I'd like to hear him to do them all.

    Fono Forum

Rätselhafter Schönheit (…) (…) Gubaidulina schreibt Musik, in der die Befindlichkeit unserer Zeit eindrücklich reflektiert wird. Crescendo Ekstatisch!!

    Hifi Video Magazine

Een grote luister uitdaging, luister er vaak naar, heel vaak en je zult steeds meer ontdekken. Spanning, metafysische krachten en grote spiritualiteit. Een ware ontdekkingsreis en een lust voor het oor!!

    BBC Music Magazine

The admirable cellist Pieter Wispelwey (…) (…) Very recommendable, especially if you want some of the composer’s most eloquent works. very recommendable, especially if you want some of the composer’s most eloquent works.

    International Record Review

Wispelwey’s interpretation is beautiful: he has thought extremely carefully about the placing and tonal quality of each note he plays. (...) (...) Wispelwey has chosen to include Gubaidulina’s preludes for solo cello and he really makes them his own, with a combination of formidable technique and lustrous tone. In Croce, for cello and bajan (Russian accordion) is one of the composer’s most intense work, here it is superbly performed by the Belgian bajan player An Raskin. They penetrate into the work’s highly charged symbolic and poetic vocabulary in an extraordinary fashion.


Fantastisch. Wispelwey speelt het stuk met een ongelooflijke power en fantasie en overtuigd van begin tot eind. En wat een schitterend koor.


Pieter Wispelwey geeft alles in deze uitvoering, het koor en de slagwerkers worden door Daniel Reuss tot een grootse prestatie gedreven en de opname is perfect. (…)


Luister er vaak naar, heel vaak en je zult steeds meer ontdekken. Spanning, metafysische krachten en grote spiritualiteit. Prachtig opgenomen, dat ook nog eens. (…) De preludes voor cello solo en bajan zijn een ware ontdekkingsreis en een lust voor het oor!

    La Libre

Mise à l'honneur de Sofia Gubaïdulina, compositrice russe née en 1931, révélée en Europe occidentale au début des années 90 et établie depuis à Berlin. Son écriture, éminemment personnelle, libre de tout dogme, mue par des forces à la fois mystiques et telluriques, est, en plus, régie par une science accomplie: une nouvelle preuve en est donnée avec le ‘Canticle of the Sun’ (1997), basé sur le poème de François d'Assise. Avec cette trouvaille: les paroles, confiées au choeur - magnifique Collegium -, sont laissées à distance et forment l'environnement sensoriel plutôt que linguistique du violoncelle à qui appartient le véritable discours. (…)

    De Standaard

Pieter Wispelwey laat iedere noot sprankelen en zijn solopartij klinkt bijzonder present: soms verleidelijk, dan wrang, dan weer ingetogen. Het Collegium Vocale voegt onthechtte engelenstemmen toe en de drie leden van het Prometheus Ensemble sluiten daar mooi bij aan. (…) De etudes voor cello solo ‘In Croce’ voor cello en accordeon zijn een charmant opvullertje waarin Wispelwey nogmaals zijn fabuleuze techniek kan bevestigen. (…)

    Daily Telegraph

Along with the crack singers of the Collegium Vocale Gent and percussion players of the Prometheus Ensemble, the Dutch cellist finds all the beauty and spiritual atmosphere of the work. (…) (…) played by Wispelwey with passion and incisiveness.


A l’image d’une Wispelwey offrant une finesse de son remarquable, au prix d’une audace contenue, l’entreprise évite les vertiges de la tempête pour recouvrir l’auditeur d’une fraîche et subtile pluie d’étoile (le numéro final, tender éblouissement)


Wispelwey’s background makes him a stylish exponent of this eerie music. (…) His individuality makes him an ideal soloist on the rather eerie Canticle, and it is this and the immediacy of his playing which makes his performances of the brief Preludes as gripping as his Bach interpretations. (…) (…) In Croce……. provoking explosions of sound when their lines cross. A suitable intense climax to a powerful disc.

The Canticle of the Sun (2004)


Pieter Wispelwey

Cables: van den Hul T3 series
Digital Converters: Meitner A/D DSD / Meitner DA
Mastering Engineer: Jared Sacks
Mastering Equipment: B&W 803 diamond series
Microphones: Bruel & Kjaer, Schoeps
Mixing Board: Rens Heijnis custom design
Producer: Jared Sacks
Recording Engineer: Jared Sacks
Recording location: The Singel Antwerp, Deventer The Netherlands 2003
Recording Software: Pyramix bij Merging
Recording Type & Bit Rate: DSD64
Speakers: Audiolab, Holland

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The Canticle Of The Sun
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Preludes For Violoncello Solo - Staccato-Legato
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In Croce For Cello And Bajan
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