Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)
Requiem for soloists, mixed choir and instrumental ensemble (1974-75) [40:45]
Three Sacred Hymns for mixed choir (1984) [5:43]
Katarzyna Oles-Blacha, Monika Korybalska, Agnieszka Kuk (soprano)
Olga Maroszek (alto)
Dominik Sutowicz (tenor)
Choir of the Faculty of Music of the University of Rzeszów/
Instrumental Ensemble of the Artur Malawski Philharmonic in Rzeszów/Bozena Stasiowska-Chorbak
rec. 2017, Artur Malawski Subcarpathian Philharmonic Concert Hall
DUX 1407 [46:22]
Alfred Schnittke’s Requiem emerged at the time the composer was developing and exploring ‘polystylistic’ music, right in between seminal works such as the First Symphony (1969–1972) and the First Concerto Grosso (1977). The Requiem is however more unified in its content, with sonorities such as bass guitar helping to bring us firmly into the 20th century, and Schnittke’s expression darkly worked out in gestures and counterpoint that owe at least something of their ancestry to Brahms and the German tradition. For further cultural references think of Penderecki’s religious choral works, with which Schnittke’s Requiem has some stylistic and emotive associations.
This is a good recording of the Requiem, with disciplined choral singing and colourful instrumental support. If you are aware of some of the alternative recordings available you may however find it a bit lightweight. These include excellent versions from the Russian State forces under Valéry Polyansky on the Chandos label, and the Swedish Radio Choir directed by Tőnu Kaljuste on the Caprice label. The latter of these is best for its sheer drama, vocal quality and sonic detail, though there is a spooky quality to the Chandos recording that has its own qualities.
This Rzeszów recording is effective and nicely produced, with superb soloists, but I don’t feel the sometimes terrifying atmosphere and sense of suspense that I hear in the best of the other recordings. This performance works best where Schnittke’s inventive writing creates its own striking effects, such as the vocal ‘waterfall’ moments in the Lacrimosa. Intonation is good on the whole, though the greatest harmonic tensions are somewhat diffuse. Some of the extremes of range, such as in the Hostias, are coped with rather than delivered as something that raises the hairs. This remains even here a fascinating work, but being aware of more vibrant versions elsewhere makes it a bit of an also-ran for me, alas.
The brief Three Sacred Songs for mixed a-capella choir draw on the Orthodox prayer tradition, and have a devotional, contemplative effect. Listening to the Three Saced Hymns on the BR Klassik release with the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks conducted by Peter Dijkstra (review) and you would think you were hearing two different pieces of music. Bozena Stasiowska-Chorbak makes of the first Moderato something almost matter-of-fact, where Peter Dijkstra finds something magical, the voices rising and falling over each other like waves on the ocean. The same goes for the second, Gospodi, which Bozena Stasiowska-Chorbak takes at around twice the speed of Dijkstra, losing most if not all of its divinely archaic atmosphere.
Enough said. I had hoped for more from this DUX release, but nice design and a glossy booklet are not sufficiently redeeming features. None of the sung texts are printed in the booklet by the way. Alas, this is not going to be one of my favourites for this year, and just over 46 minutes playing time doesn’t help.