Alfred Schnittke, SCHNITTKE: Piano Quintet / String Trio / Stille Musik

Todd Burns

By Todd Burns

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
A stirring tribute to one of modern classical music’s most celebrated composers — delivered in part by his widow.

"The goal of my life is to unify serious music and light music, even if I break my neck in doing so." So said Alfred Schnittke, whose music was dubbed "polystylism" because of the way that it attempted to bring together genres of music that rarely had intermingled before. You won't hear much of that, however, in his Piano Quintet, which has come to be regarded as one of his finest pieces. Instead, spiky traces of Webern color the piano work, while the massive and depressed droning of the strings recalls nothing less than the stormy undercurrents of emotion found in Shostakovich. Violinist Mark Lubotsky gets the lion's share of credit here for helping make the quivering, atonal melodies cohere, but it's pianist Irina Schnittke, Alfred's widow, who makes the most striking impression — adding alternately stark and lyrical counterpoint to the maelstrom that often threatens to overpower her completely.