ALBUM TITLE: Schnittke
WORKS: Violin Sonatas Nos 1-3; Suite in Old Style; Gratulationsrondo; Stille Nacht; Polka
PERFORMER: Roman Mints (violin), Katya Apekisheva (piano), Olga Martynova (harpsichord), Andrey Doynikov, Dmitri Vlassik (percussion)
CATALOGUE NO: QTZ2116
Listening to 90 minutes worth of Schnittke’s output for violin and piano might seem too much of a good thing, especially given the generally anguished and sardonic musical language adopted by the Russian composer. Yet such is the directness, intensity and variety of expression in the works presented here that there is never any danger of monotony.
The first disc undoubtedly contains the most challenging music. It opens with the Third Violin Sonata, a work completed four years before his death in 1998 which with its spare and angular style, follows very much in the footsteps of late Shostakovich. Roman Mints and the superb pianist Katya Apekisheva deliver a graphically vivid account, maximising contrast between the violent and often defiant astringent passages of the opening two movements and the other-worldly lyricism in the ensuing Adagio. The more anarchic Second Violin Sonata, dating from the late 1960s, calls for equally bold treatment. With its many pregnant pauses, startling juxtapositions of tonal and atonal material and overt references to the music of earlier composers, it’s a problematic work that can so easily sound contrived and self-conscious. But once again, Mints and Apekisheva steer a dramatically sustained and entirely convincing course through its tortured musical dialogue.
Of the ostensibly lighter items, the grotesque distortions of Stille Nacht are spookily projected by both players, as are the more upbeat features of the Gratulationsrondo and the Polka. I was particularly enchanted by the arrangement of the Suite in Old Style for viola d’amore, harpsichord and percussion, performed here with grace, elegance and good humour. Mints justifies utilising this rather surprising instrumental combination on the basis that it effectively conjures up the sound-world of the Soviet fairy-tale films that he experienced as a child.