The Strad's experts evaluate the latest string recordings
Schnittke: Piano Quartet, String Trio, Piano Quintet
Performances that get to the heart of a Russian composer’s bared emotions
Thursday, 13 June 2013
Molinari Quartet, Marcin Swoboda (viola) Louise Bessette (piano)
ATMA CLASSICAL ACD 2 2669
When Schnittke composed his Piano Quintet between 1972 and 1976, the deaths of his mother and of his friend Shostakovich weighed heavily on his mind. It is therefore a work racked with pain and emotional emaciation – the sardonic waltz of the second movement provides the only moment where the inherent gloom is lifted. As in their previous Schnittke disc (reviewed January 2012), the Canadian Molinari Quartet and friends emphasise the composer’s more lyrical qualities, and compared with the heavily laden intensity of the Keller Quartet (ECM), the players warm the cold chill that blows through much of the score. Yet in the finale’s transfigurations of music that has gone before, they produce a contorted bitterness that is more disturbing than in any rival recording.
The Piano Quartet, written twelve years later, is a more overtly atonal and brutal score, with hard-hitting tone clusters from the piano and acerbic string writing. Louise Bessette’s piano playing provides the steely quality on which the work thrives.
The String Trio, his 1985 tribute to Anton Webern, flits between tonality and atonality and makes plenty of use of pastiche. The interplay between instruments is perfectly judged here, and, as throughout the disc, the string intonation is exemplary. A relatively close and dry recording ideally balances the instruments.
From the June 2013 issue. Subscribe to The Strad or download our digital edition as part of a 30-day free trial.