Schnittke: Choir Concerto & Minnesang (CD Review - Rough Guide, 2002)

If in some of his choral music Schnittke sounds a little ‘unlike himself’, this disc reveals a less theatrical, more introspective side to his character. Perhaps it’s that the influences sit contentedly together – Rachmaninov is here, as is Poulenc at times, and the world of Pärt and Tavener isn’t too distant – yet Schnittke’s preoccupation with unusual choral textures makes the works very distinctive. The rapt Voices of Nature employs a 10-part female chorus and vibraphone, floating tightly clustered (and rather Ligeti-like) harmonies that build enticingly then drift apart. Minnesang traverses similar territory, but this time in no less than 52 parts, contrasting dense blocky chords with intricate solo writing and a range of virtuosic vocal effects. The Choir Concerto uses simpler musical language, but its impassioned setting of a tenth-century Armenian prayer works well in this program. The performances, though missing that last ounce of Russian mystique, are excellent – everything is vibrantly and intelligently sung as well as transparently recorded – making this a highly satisfying and illuminating issue.


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