Schnittke: Violin Concerto No. 2; Violin Concerto No. 3; Stille Nacht; Gratulationsrondo

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COMPOSERS: Schnittke
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 2; Violin Concerto No. 3; Stille Nacht; Gratulationsrondo
PERFORMER: Gidon Kremer (violin); CO of Europe/Christoph Eschenbach
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-94540-2 DDD
Until the arrival of the synthesizer, the recent history of western music was intimately linked to the history of the violin. No surprise, therefore, that Schnittke’s famous recycling of the past, ‘polystylism’, should rely heavily on his accomplished, inventive way with the instrument, drawing outstanding artists such as Gidon Kremer to his work.

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Two pieces on this disc make the point so obviously that they deserve to be heard more often. Stille Nacht (‘Silent Night’) begins in utter tranquillity, but the tune is soon twisted by discords into a modern grimace. Gratulationsrondo uses Mozartian themes and sticks with them in a superb Classical pastiche.

Recalling Heinrich Biber’s Biblical Sonatas, the Second Violin Concerto has a more serious historical relationship. A hidden programme about the life of Christ (according to Schnittke’s pupil Dmitry Shulgin) makes it a wordless Passion, with double-bass in the role of Judas, aleatoric woodwind the turba (crowd) and the music faithfully observing the pattern of a complex scenario.

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Completed 12 years later, in 1978, the Third Violin Concerto has a slow-fast-slow pattern in which the strings are reserved for the final movement. The result is a work of stark contrasts: a mixture of atonality, Russian chant and echoes of German Romanticism. Nicholas Williams