Schnittke's Piano Quintet, a creative response to his mother's death, is an austere, haunting work full of grief and tenderness that marks one of his early ventures into polystylistic writing. The opening piano solo is unique, a spare statement of puzzlement in the face of tragedy. It gives way to a waltz, as if recapturing a lost past, then the graceful dance melody literally disintegrates as the strings venture off into other regions, vainly trying to reassemble the theme and failing. At the end of its touching five movements the music's despair is transformed into serene, hard-won acceptance. Shostakovitch's 15th Quartet, his final statement in that form, premiered just months before his death. It's six slow movements are shot through with contemplative sadness and regret. The music is so rich in texture and substance that attention never flags.
This has the look of a career-making recording from Scots violinist Nicola Benedetti, putting her up against difficult repertory that diverges from the crowd-pleasing fare that formed the basis of her career up to this album. It would have been hard to predict just how well she pulls off her task here; few could have heard the profound interpreter of Russian music in the Italia and Silver Violin collections from earlier in the 2010s. The Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 99, is an emotionally thorny work in five movements anchored by a tense passacaglia in the middle. The composer withheld it from publication during the period of renewed Stalinist repression in the late 1940s. It was premiered in 1955 by David Oistrakh, and in endurance and elevated tone even if not quite in lyrical grandeur, Benedetti brings that master to mind. Sample the Stravinskian "Burlesque" finale for a sense of how Benedetti gets outside herself here. The Glazunov Violin Concerto, Op. 82, is a more stable work, rooted in pre-WWI conservatory traditions, and Benedetti's reading is nothing short of letter-perfect.
These pre-Chicago recordings of Fritz Reiner with the Pittsburghers is a reminder of his greatness as a conductor. It also restores to the catalog his recordings of some composers he wasn't closely identified with. Shostakovitch, for example, wasn't a regular on Reiner's studio schedule, but should have been, for this Sixth bristles with sardonic wit and energy. The Kodaly Dances, of course, were right up Reiner's alley, and get a smashing performance. The shorter works too, are first class, especially the Bart243;k Hungarian Sketches and another Reiner calling card, Kabalevsky's Colas Breugnon Overture. Weiner's string Divertimento is charming, but the real prize may be Glinka's Kamarinskaya, given a peformance that shimmers and glistens with delicacy and life. Sony's restoration of the 1945-1947 recordings is faultless.
A 50-CD set of legendary recordings celebrating the world-renowned Decca Sound. Classic-status pioneering stereo recordings from the past 60 years and starring a galaxy of internationally-acclaimed artistic talent.