Schnittke: Piano Concerto; Requiem from the music to Schiller’s Don Carlos

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COMPOSERS: Schnittke
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Piano Concerto; Requiem from the music to Schiller’s Don Carlos
PERFORMER: Igor Khudolei (piano), Olga Sizova, Anaida Agadzhanian, Olga Tal, Tatyana Sharova (sop), Ludmilla Kuznetsova (m-sop), Vsevolod Grivnov (tenor); Russian State SO & Cappella/Valeri Polyansky
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9564
Schnittke’s Requiem, written ‘undercover’ as music for a production of Schiller’s Don Carlos, is no Renaissance pastiche but descends partly from Mahler and Shostakovich, partly from Stravinsky. This is one of the most hauntingly effective of late 20th-century Requiems, neither naively formulaic nor knowingly self-deconstructing: the ritual element simultaneously distances, yet intensifies, the sense of mourning. This performance by the Russian State Symphonic Capella, under its founder, is stunningly atmospheric, worth the disc on its own.

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The Concerto for piano and strings, a brilliant if sometimes heavy-handed concert macabre renewing Lisztian single-movement concerto form, concisely encapsulates the essentials of polystylism. Serial passages, Mussorgskian bells, quarter-tone diablerie, cod Prokofiev and grotesque waltzes are abruptly juxtaposed; the effect is at once ironic, emotionally disassociated and anguished. Perhaps justly, it’s among Schnittke’s most frequently recorded works, and Khudolei’s exhilarating but rather beefy performance doesn’t dislodge those of the dedicatee Vladimir Krainev (RCA) or the recent, almost classically oriented Ralf Gothóni (Ondine) from my affections. Calum MacDonald