Schnittke: Piano Quintet; String Trio

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COMPOSERS: Schnittke
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Piano Quintet; String Trio
PERFORMER: Irina Schnittke (piano), Mark Lubotsky, Dimity Hall (violin), Irina Morozova, Theodore Kuchar (viola), Julian Smiles, Alexander Ivashkin (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554728
Schnittke’s uniquely drawn visions of despair, irony, violence and nostalgia cannot help but exert a powerful spell over even the most sceptical of listeners. The uncompromising directness of expression often reminds one of his great predecessor Shostakovich whose influence is particularly tangible here in the shadowy waltz of the Piano Quintet and in the eerie trills that haunt sections of the String Trio.

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The current catalogue already boasts fine authentic performances of both these works from Ludmilla Berlinsky and the Borodin Quartet in the Piano Quintet (Virgin) and the all-star line-up of Kremer, Bashmet and Rostropovich (EMI). But this new recording made during the 1999 Australian Festival of Chamber Music can claim an equal degree of authenticity in featuring the composer’s widow Irina Schnittke as pianist in the Quintet and some of his closest collaborators such as violinist Mark Lubotsky and cellist Alexander Ivashkin. That said, I still much prefer the Borodin performance, which carries even more conviction and finds extra emotional dimensions in passages such as the gently undulating piano line in the concluding movement. In the String Trio, matters appear more evenly balanced, though EMI’s recording has greater refinement and accommodates a wider textural and dynamic range. Still, it would be unduly churlish not to applaud Naxos’s enterprise for including a number of rarely heard miniatures and undoubtedly helping to bring Schnittke’s music to a much wider public. Erik Levi