Classical: The Compact Collection

Rob Cowan on the Week's New CD Releases
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The Independent Culture
WHEN THE dust has settled and posterity has confirmed Alfred Schnittke as a significant voice in 20th-century music, my guess is that his 1967 Sonata for Violin and Chamber Orchestra will establish itself as one of his most enduring works. The extraordinarily pungent scoring allocates key roles to both piano and harpsichord, though the score's best moments are meditative, especially the eerie close of the second movement, which takes a sideways glance at late Shostakovich.

Daniel Hope's excellent new Nimbus CD, with the English Symphony Orchestra under William Boughton, programmes the Sonata with the later, less weighty but by no means lighter Concerto Grosso No 6 for Piano, Violin and String Orchestra. It also includes Kurt Weill's compelling and, in many ways, perplexing Violin Concerto, where echoes of Mahler, Schoenberg and popular music of the Twenties conjure a definite sense of period, but without sounding dated. Hope's programme doesn't so much end as wander into the ether along with Takemitsu's quarter-hour Nostalgia for violin and string orchestra, music heavy with sadness (it was written in memory of the Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky) and alive with passion. The recordings are excellent.

Through the years, musical repertory has harboured a wealth of coded questions, "thank-yous", tributes and memorials. Some are more obvious than others, though there is one in particular - it occurs towards the end of Dvorak's vivacious Second Piano Quintet - that no one mentions. On Teldec's memorable new recording, it comes at 2' 09" into track four - an unmistakable reference to the finale of Schumann's Piano Quintet, composed 45 years earlier. Teldec had the inspired idea of partnering the pianist Andrs Schiff with the gifted Panocha Quartet for a performance that combines interpretative sophistication with an evident delight in Dvorak's earthy rhythms. The coupling, I have to say, is even better: Dvorak's Second Piano Quartet, equalled only by Brahms's Second and including one of the most rapturously beautiful passages in all chamber music. Beam up track 5, and play from 7' 12" to 7' 31". It's a hard act to follow - perhaps with an encore, something "small but beautifully formed".

No living pianist is better qualified to indulge the musical sweetmeat than Stephen Hough, whose two volumes of the Piano Album (Virgin) have been joined together as a delicious - and ridiculously cheap - double pack. Hough ranges from a gorgeous arrangement of Quilter's song "Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal", through virtuoso morsels composed, or arranged, by Leopold Godowsky, Moritz Rosenthal and Ignace Friedman, to an extended "Hungarian Gipsy Airs" (almost 15 minutes' worth) by Carl Tausig.

Hough's effortless technique and innate musicianship make every moment memorable. There are 40 items in all, and if you fear for lack of familiar tunes, there are plenty of those, too - not least Hough's own arrangements of Richard Rodgers' "My Favourite Things" and "The March of the Siamese Children". The recordings are lively and realistic.

Schnittke/Hope: Nimbus NI5582

Dvorak/Schiff, Panocha Quartet:

Teldec 0630-17142-2

Piano Album/Hough: Virgin VBD5 61498 2

(two discs)

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