Schnittke: Violin Sonata No. 1; Violin Sonata No. 2 (Quasi una sonata); À Paganini; Prelude in memoriam Dmitri Shostakovich

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COMPOSERS: Schnittke
LABELS: Bridge
WORKS: Violin Sonata No. 1; Violin Sonata No. 2 (Quasi una sonata); À Paganini; Prelude in memoriam Dmitri Shostakovich
PERFORMER: Joanna Kurkowicz (violin), Sergey Schepkin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 9104
Schnittke’s violin and piano works are pretty well repertoire pieces by now, and there are several competing versions of all the works here – the most notable by Russian artists such as Gidon Kremer who were friends with the composer and may be presumed to have an authentic and authoritative approach as any. Kurkowicz and Schepkin (both Boston-based, from Poland and Russia respectively) nevertheless turn in a very creditable clutch of performances, and the programme is well conceived, the post-Shostakovichian polystylism of the First Sonata balanced in turn by the giddy bravura of À Paganini, the severe and abrupt gestural style of Quasi una sonata and the elegiac intensity of the memorial piece for Shostakovich.

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These are testing works, both in terms of their technical demands and – in the case of the sonatas – simply to make their diverse and fragmented structures cogent, and the performers rise effectively to the challenge in a pleasantly natural recording. Kurkowicz’s flamboyant account of À Paganini especially excited my admiration. The disc would make a very useful introduction to Schnittke for any listener just wanting to get to know something about this controversial composer. Inevitably, history is going to weed out quite a lot of Schnittke’s prolific output, but these four pieces will surely stand the test of time. Calum MacDonald