Schnittke: Quasi una Sonata; Suite in the Old Style; Concerto Grosso No. 6; Moz-Art à la Haydn

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COMPOSERS: Schnittke
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Schnittke
WORKS: Quasi una Sonata; Suite in the Old Style; Concerto Grosso No. 6; Moz-Art à la Haydn
PERFORMER: Ulf Wallin, Tero Latvala, Meri Englund (violin); Tapiola Sinfonietta/Ralf Gothóni (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1437
The latest issue in BIS’s long-running Schnittke series counterpoints several facets of his personality. Quasi una Sonata for violin and piano (1968) was one of the first works to establish his international reputation: its obsessive dissonance, Dies Irae references and splintered, alienating mosaic construction signalled a radical talent in full revolt against Soviet conformity. This subsequent version with chamber orchestra (1987) extends the colouristic palette while losing none of the pungency of the original, and it remains one of his strongest pieces. To the zany fantasy of Moz-Art à la Haydn (1977) for two violins and double string orchestra, with its magpie quotations and surreal distortions, is contrasted the cool pastiche of the Suite in Old Style (1972 – heard here in Spivakov and Milman’s 1987 orchestration), the work of a preternaturally gifted chameleon. The late Sixth Concerto Grosso is a relatively ‘pure’ work, its existential melancholy mirrored in textures and motifs that are pared down to the bone.

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Ulf Wallin is a mesmerizing soloist especially in Quasi una Sonata, and the Tapiola Sinfonietta play as if they thought every note was written in blood. On its own terms, then, and to all enthusiasts of this sometimes baffling composer, the disc is highly recommendable. Rival recordings exist: Gidon Kremer’s of Quasi una Sonata with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe generates less tension yet has the expressive edge in fantasy and refinement of sound, and makes one aware of Wallin’s tendency to rhetorical exaggeration. Concerto Grosso No. 6 was recorded by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky and Viktoria Postnikova on Chandos, and also by Daniel Hope and Simon Mulligan – still, in my view, the most powerful performance: it’s astonishing how much emotion they wring from such stripped-bare music. But the new disc is a very useful coupling. Calum MacDonald