WORKS: Psalms of Repentance
PERFORMER: Swedish Radio Choir/Tonu Kaljuste
CATALOGUE NO: 453 513-2
Where Denmark leads, Sweden follows. In 1995, the Danish National Radio Choir, with conductor Stefan Parkman on the Chandos label, gave the premiere recording of Schnittke’s Penitential Psalms. So now here comes the Swedish Radio Choir under the direction of Tonu Kaljuste on ECM, with a new reading, standing alone (the wordless Voices of Nature partnered the earlier release), but no less powerful in its compelling re-creation of a major score by this composer.
The music of these psalms – they are, in fact, 15th-century Russian religious poems – begins like an echo from the abyss. Men’s voices reach slowly upwards and outwards to encompass a style that mixes searching chromaticism with uncomfortable tonal outbursts in brazen triads. The Swedish sound seems slightly more spaciously resonant than that of their fellow Scandinavians; but in the intensity stakes, there’s little to choose between them, though Kaljuste’s vision is perhaps more driven and disturbing.
There’s precious little for your comfort, certainly; no hope of the mercy that follows contrition until the closing music of the 12th and final psalm, sung as wordless humming. Here, though skies are not exactly blue, colour suffuses the score, transforming to a colour of hope the greys of introspection. Nicholas Williams