Schnittke: Peer Gynt

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COMPOSERS: Schnittke
WORKS: Peer Gynt
PERFORMER: Orchestra of the Royal Opera, Stockholm/Eri Klas
Ibsen’s satirical fantasy Peer Gynt has attracted few composers since Grieg. But in our own time, Robin Holloway has made it the subject of an ambitious choral-orchestral ballad, and Alfred Schnittke a full-length ballet, now faithfully recorded by Eri Klas and the orchestra of the Royal Opera, Stockholm.


Written for Hamburg Ballet’s John Neumeier, it’s among Schnittke’s most impressive recent works, the more so for being written in the shadow of illness, which has failed to inhibit an astonishing breadth of invention. A striking comparison is with Maxwell Davies’s Caroline Mathilde. Both scores lighten their sombre expressionism with softer details, but in Peer Gynt these have the characteristic touch of Schnittke’s polystylism, with pub piano music for the scene of Peer’s audition, and tender Grieg-pastiche for the Act 2 Overture. A network of motifs gives the ballet an audible symphonic unity, and Schnittke’s personal scoring of tangled clusters, bells and jagged counterpoints of unison strings and trombones further beguiles the ear. Going beyond Ibsen, the haunting Epilogue reconciles Peer and Solveig, with taped a cappella voices set against darker memories of the trolls. Nicholas Williams