Schnittke • Pärt
Schnittke’s Choir Concerto is the major work here; indeed, as the passing of time allows his huge output to begin to fall into place, it looks as if this will be reckoned among his finest achievements, one certain to last. As a stunning kind of evocation of all the Russian Orthodox church music one has ever heard, and yet masterfully composed with a powerful sense of architecture and inner logic, it’s surely up there with Rachmaninov’s Vespers. There is already an excellent recent version from the Holst Singers under Stephen Layton on Hyperion (reviewed April 2002) – whose coupling, like this one, includes Schnittke’s very different little minimalist essay Voices of Nature. In a slightly dry acoustic, the British ensemble certainly creates a convincing spiritual aura and has greater clarity of enunciation than the Swedish Radio Choir. But this new BIS version, if it has more recorded resonance, also exudes greater warmth – it’s a refulgently passionate performance in which the Concerto emerges as simultaneously more ardent and more monumental, despite Tõnu Kaljuste’s relatively faster tempi. The three comparatively recent Arvo Pärt works, beautifully composed though they are, inevitably appear rather as makeweights to Schnittke’s sonorous masterpiece. Only I am the True Vine is recognisably in his familiar ‘tintinnabular’ style; the most interesting of the three is the unexpectedly festive ‘piccola cantata’ Dopo la vittoria (1996-8). This was written for the 1,600th anniversary of the death of St Ambrose and sets an account from an old Russian encyclopedia (translated into Italian) telling the story of his baptism of St Augustine, when the two saints spontaneously broke out into singing the Te Deum; it’s a strikingly effective piece. As with the Schnittke items, the performance is of a very high standard, the choir’s intonation remaining rock-solid over long stretches of complex texture.