Schnittke: Concerto for Mixed Chorus; Voices of Nature; Minnesang

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COMPOSERS: Schnittke
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Concerto for Mixed Chorus; Voices of Nature; Minnesang
PERFORMER: Holst Singers/Stephen Layton; Rachel Gledhill (vibraphone)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67297
Well within the bounds of the Russian orthodox tradition, but bending its block harmonies, laments and affirmations to its own overwhelming ends, Schnittke’s Choir Concerto is one of the most elaborate works with a tonal basis a choir is ever going to face; and Stephen Layton’s Holst Singers face it boldly, with scrupulous concern for the words. Strength and urgency inform Schnittke’s text, the third chapter of The Book of Lamentations by a tenth-century Armenian monk (its translation, by the way, reminds us how steeped in this tradition is the language of Pimen in Pushkin’s Boris Godunov}. Especially impressive is the proselytising zeal of the second-movement prayer against its unfolding background of Alliluyias’. After so many emotional turning-points, majestically gauged, the fourth-movement epilogue comes as a decisive benediction.

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Out of its final, velvety D major, bolstered by the resonance of lowest basses (and yes, they do run to them in London), come the disembodied Ds of Voices of Nature, simply but beautifully written for overlapping women’s voices and the complementary shimmer of vibraphone. Minnesang is more of an acquired taste, weaving its elaborate 52-part textures around original medieval songs; its final climax is a shattering unison across the full choral range, after which the dense part-writing regroups and descends. This, like so much else on the disc, the Holst Singers tackle with an almost supernatural accuracy. David Nice