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Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)
Sonata No. 1 for Cello and Piano (1978) [21:47]
Improvisation for Solo Cello (1993) [10:16]
Sonata No.2 for Cello and Piano (1993-94) [15:25]
Musica Nostalgica for Cello and Piano [3:30]
Epilogue (from the ballet Peer Gynt) for cello, piano and tape (1993) [23:49]
Torleif Thedeen (cello)
Roland Pontinen (piano)
rec. Nybrokajen 11, Stockholm, Sweden, November 2003 (Epilogue), March 2003 (others)
BIS CD-1427 [76:12]

This disc collects Schnittke's works for cello and piano. These span a considerable period, being written variously from 1978 to 1994. They thus cover periods of his output both before and after the stroke had such a profound effect upon him.
This performance of the First Sonata is an excellent representation of a powerful and exciting work which has rightly become established in the modern cello repertoire. Dedicated to Natalia Gutman, the influence of Schnittke's prolific work as a composer of film scores (as noted by his biographer Alexander Ivashkin) is evident, particularly in the dramatic and eerie second movement.

The fourth piece, Musica Nostalgica - dedicated to Rostropovich - also has a connection to this artistic activity. It originates from the score Schnittke wrote for the 1965 film The Adventures of a Dentist.
The Second Sonata and the Improvisation - the latter again dedicated to Rostropovich - a cellist who was strongly influential for Schnittke - reflect the more sparse and stark approach the composer adopted following the first of his series of strokes. The compact Second Sonata is made up of a series of short, almost Webernesque movements of sharply contrasting tempos within its dense 15 minute course. These alternate very slow with rather brisk before dwindling to virtually nothing in a brave ending which is bold in its lack of boldness.
The Peer Gynt epilogue draws on material from the composer's 1986 ballet based on Ibsen's play. Schnittke writes that he deliberately tried to set aside the potential influence of Grieg's music whilst working on this. However, the listener may find that this is something they inevitably consider, if only by way of comparison and contrast, when listening to this more complex and ambiguous working of the same thematic source. Interestingly, one of the ways in which the pianist here, Roland Pontinen, may be known to British readers is through his excellent performance of the Grieg concerto at the BBC Proms.
The performers are both holders of the Swedish 'Litteris et Artibus' medal. Both perform in chamber music and as concerto soloists. The cellist Torleif Thedeen has been a professor at the Royal College of Music in Sweden since 1996. He has also recorded an award-winning CD of the Shostakovich cello concertos (BIS CD-626) and a well-received disc of Bach's suites for solo cello, also on BIS (CD-803/04).
The Swedish BIS label here continues its commendable support for this composer's works and for post-Soviet contemporary music generally. It also has, inter alia, a high quality recording of Schnittke’s string quartets (BIS CD 467). This is an interesting and worthwhile collection, with a high standard of both playing and recording. Whilst of particular interest with regard to the modern cello repertoire, it is also a useful, if partial, insight into the composer's stylistic range within the smaller scale of chamber works.
Julie Williams


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