> Alfred Schnittke - Piano Trio/Quintet [TB]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)
Piano Trio
Piano Quintet
Barbican Piano Trio, with Jan Peter Schmolck (violin), James Boyd (viola)
Rec 6 August (Trio), 23 November (Quintet), St George's Brandon Hill, Bristol
ASV Quicksilva CD QS 6251 [57.05]


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Various stylistic features characterise Schnittke's music, and he constantly sought to explore new frontiers. Much the most significant factor was the sheer range of his expressive language, since he reconciled seemingly divergent musical worlds in ways which remain both accessible and powerfully direct.

Schnittke composed a String Trio in 1985, the year he wrote his Viola Concerto for Yuri Bashmet. As a gesture of friendship Bashmet arranged the Trio for string orchestra, and this opened up the music's possibilities for other combinations; Schnittke himself made the present arrangement for piano trio in 1992.

Between the initial composition and the subsequent arrangement, Schnittke suffered a series of strokes which weakened his health, but thankfully did not entirely obstruct his creative work.

The Trio has two movements. Both tend toward slower tempi, though with many contrasting elements which create the range necessary for a substantial composition. Of course this does require the performers to share and communicate the vision, but there is no problem in that sense as far as the Barbican Trio is concerned.. Their interpretation is sensitive and thoroughly prepared, and the ASV recording makes the most of the pleasing chamber music acoustic of St George's, Brandon Hill.

The Piano Quintet, composed over a four-year period during the mid-1970s, is surely one of Schnittke's best compositions, exploratory and emotional. Much of it is extraordinarily refined and restrained, for the composer eschews the temptation to prefer rich sonorities with this potentially sonorous ensemble. The playing of the Barbican Trio and colleagues is ever alert, and there are some really telling expressive points which emerge naturally out of the controlled dynamic shadings. This composition represents an interesting and in many ways arresting approach to chamber music, confirming the view that the genre encourages composers to their most profound inspirations.

As well as the excellent performances, the disc is also distinguished by some particularly good notes by Malcolm MacDonald.

Terry Barfoot

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