Schnittke: Choir Concerto & Minnesang
Unquestionably one of the choral masterpieces of the 20th century, Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto for Mixed Chorus is an extended setting (about 40 minutes’ duration) of words from ‘The Book of Lamentations’ by the Armenian monk Grigor Narekatsi (951-1003). Written in 1984/5, it is scored for a very large choir and for this recording Holst Singers were augmented by large contingents of London’s finest singers.
Like Wagner (in Tannhäuser) and Richard Strauss (in Guntram), Schnittke was attracted to the poetry and music of the minnesingers, the German medieval tradition of courtly lyrics and secular monophony. At first he planned to write an instrumental piece (intended for his third violin concerto) based on songs by the minnesingers, but he later rejected this idea and decided to keep these vocal melodies for vocal music. The result is Minnesang (1980/81) for 52 voices (18 sopranos, 12 altos, 10 tenors and 12 basses).
The third work on the disc is the haunting and evocative Voices of Nature, from 1972. This is a vocalise—that is, without words—for ten female voices and vibraphone. Its first public performance took place in spring 1975. Superb performances directed by the recipient of the recent Gramophone Award for the Best Choral Record of the Year (Britten’s Sacred and Profane, CDA67140), Stephen Layton.
Best of 2002 – BBC Music Magazine
‘A superb and revealing performance of one of Schnittke’s most approachable works … The technical skill of the Holst Singers is truly impressive … there is a complete sense of security and enjoyment from the highest floating soprano to the lowest bass rumblings’ (Gramophone)
‘One of the most imposing of all Schnittke’s later works … superbly performed’ (The Guardian)
‘if the concerto does not ultimately go down as one of the masterpieces of the late twentieth century choral repertoire, I shall be staggered’ (International Record Review)
‘spinetingling … music great for contemplation, and a terrific showcase for the choir’s stamina’ (The Times)
‘superbly performed’ (The Guardian)
‘This is a disc that reaffirms Schnittke as one of the most significant composers of the last century and the Holst Singers as a leading chorus on the international stage’ (bbc.co.uk)
‘the music, direct in manner and imposing in effect, should appeal to anyone who already loves the sacred choral works of Rachmaninov or Tchaikovsky’ (Irish Times)
‘high vocal standards … A fine introduction to some rare and satisfying repertoire’ (The Observer)
‘Stephen Layton’s Holst Singers really show their mettle … Schnittke fans will want to hear this; and anyone else who’s curious about what one of the 20th Century’s more intriguing and inventive composers was up to during the 1980’s also should check it out’ (ClassicToday.com)
‘The Holst Singers have done an excellent job … They have a beautiful, cool sound in the best British tradition, and the deep bass voices bring forth some glorious noises … This disc is hugely welcome … fascinating and, ultimately, uplifting’ (musicweb.uk.net)