Violin Sonata No. 1; Suite in the Old Style; Madrigal in memoriam Oleg Kagan, etc.
Daniel Hope (violin), Alexey Botvinov (piano)
DG 483 9234 56:21 mins
Coming after a generous run of increasingly lightweight ‘concept’ albums, it’s a pleasure to find the violinist Daniel Hope offering a programme of genuine substance. Presenting an album portrait of that polystylist and jack-in-the-box Alfred Schnittke through his varied output for violin and piano is nothing new. But Hope can claim extra authority in the field from his past friendship with the remarkable composer, vividly outlined in his five-page booklet essay, though at the expense of any details about most of the works which are performed.
That is a pity. The fascination of the courtly Baroque dances of the Suite im alten Stil can only be doubled once you realise the music’s source: film music for a Soviet satirical comedy of 1965, The Adventures of a Dentist. Some dentist, some adventures! Little extra knowledge, however, could illuminate the startling stylistic jumps in the 1963 Violin Sonata: the strongest piece here, as well as the best showcase for the powerful rapport between Hope and his Ukrainian pianist, Alexey Botvinov.
Spare and intense, the unaccompanied 1991 memorial Madrigal for the violinist Oleg Kagan (dead from cancer at 43) brings less immediate rewards; though for different reasons it’s equally hard to relax in comfort with the Mozart pastiche of the Gratulationsrondo, or the cloying treatment of the ubiquitous Christmas carol in Stille Nacht. Over 20 years after his death, Schnittke’s musical games are as potent and jolting as they ever were, and Hope and Botvinov take up their challenges with wonderful verve and conviction.