Alfred Schnittke's Second Concerto Grosso is a different creature than his First. While the 1977 Concerto Grosso No. 1 for 2 Violins, Strings and Keyboards is a lithe, vicious, often comical work, the Second, finished five years later, is a weightier affair. The soloists are now violin and cello; the Baroque band is now a full orchestra with electric guitar, drum kit, and brake drum; there are four large movements rather than six smaller ones; the entire work is imbued with an air of sincere tragedy, albeit with mud on its shoes. Schnittke dedicated the work to its premiere soloists, husband-and-wife duo Oleg Kagan (violin) and Natalia Gutman (cello); famed for their flawless ensemble, the couple inspired in Schnittke a musical air of companionship – a single soul in two instruments.
The young, American, all-female Lark Quartet have been gathering prizes and critical encomia over the past ten years or so, and these sensitively prepared performances of three of Schnittke’s most memorable chamber pieces show just why. I’m pretty sure I’ve not heard a better focused or more full-blooded account of the Second Quartet, nor one which held my attention more consistently.
Schnittke's Piano Quintet, a creative response to his mother's death, is an austere, haunting work full of grief and tenderness that marks one of his early ventures into polystylistic writing. The opening piano solo is unique, a spare statement of puzzlement in the face of tragedy. It gives way to a waltz, as if recapturing a lost past, then the graceful dance melody literally disintegrates as the strings venture off into other regions, vainly trying to reassemble the theme and failing. At the end of its touching five movements the music's despair is transformed into serene, hard-won acceptance. Shostakovitch's 15th Quartet, his final statement in that form, premiered just months before his death. It's six slow movements are shot through with contemplative sadness and regret. The music is so rich in texture and substance that attention never flags.
No performer championed the work of the late Russian composer Alfred Schnittke more than violinist Gidon Kremer. Here Kremer and colleagues offer a diverse sampling of Schnittke's work that will interest both those familiar and unfamiliar with this fascinating and influential composer. In the opening Concerto Grosso No. 1 for instance three centuries of Classical and Popular musical styles collide to humorous and at times chilling effect. Schnittke's exhilarating early piece Quasi una sonata as well is equally experimental requiring the violin soloist Kremer to extract sounds from his instrument Stradivari never intended. Deutsche Grammophon's sound is remarkably good capturing all the fun beautifully.
The disc contains moving choral music written by two of the most significant composers of the 20th century. At its world premiere in 1986, Alfred Schnittke's Concerto for Chorus was said to be revolutionary, whilst Arvo Pärt remains one of the most popular composers of the present day.
BIS is proud to present the only available collection of the complete symphonies by Alfred Schnittke. The recordings, part of the Schnittke Edition begun in 1987, have been brought together in a 6-CD boxed set which also includes an initiated essay by Schnittke’s close associate Alexander Ivashkin: a fascinating chapter in the history of the late 20th-century symphony.