Schnittke: Piano Quintet; Three Madrigals; Serenade; String Trio

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COMPOSERS: Schnittke
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Piano Quintet; Three Madrigals; Serenade; String Trio
PERFORMER: Sarah Leonard (soprano); Capricorn/Timothy Mason
Given the quantity of available versions of Alfred Schnittke’s Piano Quintet, you might wonder if the world needs another. Hyperion thinks it does, and its new release featuring the Capricorn ensemble has the virtue of offering a non-Russian view of a deeply Slavic work. The fine String Trio provides a further dose of despair, pleasantly offset, however, by a pair of chamber pieces in which the composer wears the humorous mask.


About the Serenade of 1968 there is an essential rudeness – in the nicest possible sense. The opening clarinet glissando sounds less a crib from Rhapsody in Blue than a two-fingered salute to the ironclad establishment of the time. What follows is no less disturbing: a collage of aleatoric fragments and half-submerged popular tunes. But this chaos is cunningly arranged, and knows where it’s going. This is not Schnittke the prolix. The ending is perfectly judged.


The Three Madrigals (1980) are of more serious provenance, yet maintain the light touch through the conceit of their polyglot texts and an attractive scoring including vibraphone and harpsichord. The String Trio, a hommage to Alban Berg, receives a mellow performance, the part-writing full, secure and excellently balanced. Nicholas Williams