As a means of transcending the limitations of schools or theories, "polystylism" served Alfred Schnittke well, and it enabled him to surprise audiences with his enormous musical vocabulary. However, there is a fine line between playing with styles and outright pastiche, which Schnittke sometimes crosses, seemingly jumping from a position of ironic commentary to comic mimicry. This disc presents three frequently performed pieces, which, if heard from beginning to end, may baffle, because Schnittke's stylistic sweep goes from the jolting gesturalism of the Sonata No. 2 for violin and piano (1968) to the Mozartian prattling of the Gratulationsrondo (1974) without any transition. The former piece was clearly meant to shock, where the latter was a lighthearted amusement intended as a personal birthday gift. Even though it comes last on the program, the Piano Quintet (1972-1976) ought to be heard first, if only to prepare the listener for Schnittke's chimerical changes of style in a serious work, where the shifts are explicable, fully integrated, and more deeply affecting. The performances of the Sonata and the Gratulationsrondo by violinist Lidiya Kovalenko and pianist Yury Serov are polished, though that of the Quintet by these musicians with violinist Alexey Baev, violist Alexei Popov, and cellist Kirill Timofeev is the most emotionally satisfying.
Schnittke: Violin Sonata No. 2; Congratulatory Rondo; Piano Quintet Review
by Blair Sanderson