Schnittke: Six Preludes for Piano

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COMPOSERS: Schnittke
LABELS: Toccata
WORKS: Six Preludes for Piano; Dialogue for Cello and Ensemble; Yellow Sound; Magdalina; Variations for String Quartet
PERFORMER: Drosostalitsa Moraiti (piano), Alexander Ivashkin (cello), Nelly Lee, Liora Grodnikaite (soprano), Oleh Krysa, Natalia Lomeiko (violin), Konstantin Boyarsky (viola); Bolshoi Soloists’ Ensemble; Alexander Lazarev; Ensemble Pentaèdre de Montréal/Jeremy Bell
CATALOGUE NO: TOCC 0091

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From the Six Preludes he wrote as a student (confident, effective pieces surprisingly redolent of Rachmaninov and Scriabin) to the painful simplicity of the pathetic little Variations for string quartet that was probably his last work, this programme – nearly all first recordings – contrives to shed light on obscure corners of Alfred Schnittke’s output, from end to end of his career.

Though most of the works are heard in recent recordings made in London, the biggest work here is the surreal ‘stage composition’ The Yellow Sound (1974) based on Kandinsky’s drama Der gelbe Klang, is heard in the recording of its 1984 Moscow world premiere.

As a polystylistic sound-invention it is mesmerisingly bizarre, a surreal cousin to the focused intensity of the 1967 Dialogue for cello and ensemble, which shares its high Modernist attitude and is presented here in a 2006 performance from Canada.

Alexander Ivashkin is a superb soloist in this latter piece, while soprano Nelly Lee is equally good in a haunting Pasternak setting, Magdalina, from 1977. In fact the sound and the performances are throughout excellent.

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Not perhaps the first place to start with Schnittke, but certainly to be considered if you think you’ve already got the measure of this surprisingly various composer. Calum MacDonald