Schnittke: Complete piano music

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Schnittke
LABELS: Delphian
ALBUM TITLE: Schnittke: Complete piano music
WORKS: Complete piano music
PERFORMER: Simon Smith, with Richard Beauchamp and John Cameron
CATALOGUE NO: DCD 34131

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Alfred Schnittke composed three substantial Piano Sonatas near the end of his life. Of these, the First is the most epic and has the widest contrast in moods, moving disturbingly from the relatively innocuous to moments of violence and desperation. The Second, dedicated to Schnittke’s wife, juxtaposes haunting allusions to Austro-German late-Romanticism with an austere chorale, while the Third is spare in texture and somewhat elusive in character.

Schnittke also composed a steady stream of piano pieces throughout his career. Most striking are the early Variations, steeped in the Russian Romantic tradition of Scriabin and Rachmaninov, the hugely impressive Improvisation and Fugue and some delightful piano miniatures for children. On the other hand, Schnittke’s cadenzas to a number of Mozart piano concertos, though interesting in themselves, really need to be heard in their proper context. 

Pianist Simon Smith demonstrates complete empathy with Schnittke’s distinctive sound world. His playing has great dramatic immediacy, both in the frenetic virtuosic sections where the sheer density of texture can become overwhelming, and in the more reflective and slower passages where his control of pace and atmosphere is masterly. Altogether, these are compelling and utterly persuasive accounts.

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Erik Levi