Quintet, for piano, 2 violins, viola and cello (1972-76) [24:35]
Quartet (Allegro), for piano, violin, viola and cello (1988) [7:35]
Trio, for piano, violin and cello (1985/1992) [25:51]
*Music for piano and chamber orchestra (Piano Concerto no.2) (1964)
Maria Lettberg (piano); Ewa Kupiec (piano) (Quintet); Members of
the Petersen Quartet (Conrad Muck (violin); Daniel Bell (violin);
Friedemann Weigle (viola); Henry Varema (cello)); *Members of the
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Frank Strobel
rec. Studio Gärtnerstrasse 12, Berlin, 12-13 August 2008, 23-25
February 2009; *Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, 17-18 April 2008.
CRYSTAL CLASSICS N 67083 [72:38]
Schnittke's chamber music is fairly well serviced by recordings these days.
In particular, there are many fine specimens of the Piano Quintet.
Nonetheless, such is the quality of his music that it is always
worth making room for more, and this piano-based quartet of
recordings from the German label Crystal Classics is well worth
Schnittke is well known for his so-called polystylism, but the
salient aspects of these works for most listeners will be their
general atonality and sombre mien. The despairing, almost creepy
Quintet was written in memory of Schnittke's deceased mother.
The one-movement Quartet is based on a Mahler fragment, but
is predominantly turbulent and gloomy - by this time Schnittke
had survived a coma, but only just. Stark, dark dissonance punctuates
the Piano Trio too, repeatedly thwarting intermittent driving
rhythms, with just a glimmer of hope appearing in the violin
part in the final minutes. Happier times evidently prevailed
for Schnittke when he was writing the Music for piano and chamber
orchestra, even in Moscow. This is one of the more approachable
atonal chamber works to emerge from eastern Europe in the 1960s.
The composer even throws in a bit of jazz, but overall the modernist
element is unsurprisingly at its strongest here.
Polish pianist and Chopin specialist Ewa Kupiec has a hugely
impressive discography to her name, and she is captivating in
the Quintet. But that is not to take anything away from Swedish
soloist Maria Lettberg, who is just as compelling. Her 8-CD
boxed set of Skriabin's solo piano music on Capriccio just a
few years back is essential listening for lovers of piano music,
and a bargain too - see review.
Mention should also be made of her impressive Melartin
set. Praise is due too for the Petersen Quartet members, especially
first violin Conrad Muck, whose name may not travel well but
whose virtuosity and delicacy certainly do.
Kupiec, Lettberg, Strobel and the RSOB recorded three of Schnittke's
Piano 'Concertos' for Phoenix Edition - see review.
That disc did not include the 'Concerto' on this CD, which Crystal
have labelled "no.2" - strictly speaking correct, following
the early Piano Concerto proper of 1960. Phoenix, on the other
hand, had their own "no.2", the Concerto for piano and strings
of 1979, completely ignoring the one in this programme. The
remaining work, the third or fourth according to counting system,
is the Concerto for piano four hands and chamber orchestra,
dating from 1988.
Despite the name, Crystal's sound recordings are not always
'crystal' clear, but these ones are generally very good, although
the studio recordings may be to closely miked for some tastes.
The German-English-French notes are fairly detailed and well
written, although, as is often the case, the English translation
has been done by a non-native speaker, leaving them with a marked
German accent: 'concert' for 'concerto', 'three-metre' for 'triple
meter/time', 'spooky-soft' for 'soft, spooky' and so on.
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