Schnittke: Choir Concerto; Minnesang

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COMPOSERS: Schnittke
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Choir Concerto; Minnesang
PERFORMER: Danish National Radio Choir/Stefan Parkman
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9126 DDD
However uneven Schnittke’s output may sometimes appear to be, there is no doubting the strength of purpose and stylistic coherence of each of the unaccompanied choral works on this disc. Writing for a cappella voices concentrates a composer’s mind wonderfully, and both Minnesang from 1981 and the Choir Concerto completed four years later are beautifully sustained, highly imaginative works.

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Schnittke defies categorisation among the ‘isms’ of contemporary music; his constant quest for new expressive territory takes him across so many stylistic boundaries. Yet Minnesang at least could be described as a Minimalist score; it uses just a handful of chords for these settings of medieval German songs, creating a dense polyphony and some massive climaxes from tight-packed canons and imitative writing. The Concerto, though, is much more prodigal in its techniques: the historical model here is liturgical works of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, but there is more than a hint of Mussorgsky’s Boris in the mixture too. The Danish performances are carefully detailed; in the Concerto there could be more vocal weight – some of the richness that only Russian choirs bring to their own tradition. Andrew Clements