Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)
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) [14:27]
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. DDD
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 consideration.
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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Schnittke is well known for his so-called polystylism but the salient aspects here are atonality and a sombre mien.