Schnittke: Piano Sonata No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 3; Variations on a Chord; Five Aphorisms

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COMPOSERS: Schnittke
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 3; Variations on a Chord; Five Aphorisms
PERFORMER: Boris Berman (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9704
Save for the First Sonata, already recorded by Berman on another Chandos release, this disc presents practically all Schnittke’s compositions for solo piano. Probably the most affecting work is the Second Sonata (1990), which follows the familiar pattern of the composer’s late work in featuring angular melodic lines that rise to a frenzied almost catastrophic climax in each of its three movements. Although a chorale passage in sarabande rhythm in the central slow movement provides momentary repose, the overriding impression is one of desperation, of music that hovers on the brink between life and death.

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Dislocation with the real world is even more prevalent in the brooding and spare low notes of the first movement of the Third Sonata (1992). Despite a few bursts of energy in later movements, one feels numb after hearing this work. Fortunately, the Variations on a Chord (1965), which demonstrate Schnittke’s capacity to weld different pianistic styles (shades of Prokofiev, Debussy, Stravinsky and Berg) into an impressive entity, and the exuberant and jazzy Improvisation and Fugue (1965), composed for the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, offer necessary relief after such gloomy fare.

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To be perfectly honest, none of the pieces here is exactly top-drawer Schnittke, but Berman is a committed and sympathetic interpreter, and the recorded sound is superb. Erik Levi