Schnittke: String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3; Piano Quintet

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COMPOSERS: Schnittke
LABELS: Arabesque
WORKS: String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3; Piano Quintet
PERFORMER: Gary Graffman (piano); Lark Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: Z 6707
The already impressive list of fine musicians who’ve recorded the music of Alfred Schnittke is extended yet again by this new release from the four women of the Lark Quartet. This dedicated, dynamic ensemble explores the composer’s music in its characteristically elegiac mood. It gets to grips with the popular Third Quartet, explores its less well-known predecessor, and with pianist Gary Graffman delivers a refined reading of the Piano Quintet, written in memory of the composer’s mother.

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Much obsessed with death, these pieces also employ Schnittke’s technique of polystylism. Only in the Third Quartet, however, is the manner elaborated overtly into a mosaic of allusions which outspokenly span the centuries. The point is style. Yet to play this music perfectly, one imagines, it might be needful to forget the historical scope of allusions to Lassus, Beethoven and Shostakovich, and to shape the movements as line and texture existing only at their moment of realisation.

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In this, the Lark Quartet succeeds masterfully, both here and in the more reserved Second Quartet, where the focus applies to ancient Russian church song. Grief is quietly measured in the Quintet, its sorrowful note allowed to speak naturally in a spaciously recorded ambience. Nicholas Williams