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Almost 20 years after his death, Alfred Schnittke’s place within Soviet musical history and, indeed, the wider cultural perspective of post-war 20th-century music are beginning to fall into place. His large catalogue of works is better known now than in his lifetime. Whether we are any closer to understanding the many contradictions and influences that are contained within this major figure is anyone’s guess, but they make an exploration of his music endlessly fascinating. This new CD from the excellent RIAS Chamber Choir under their director, Hans-Christoph Rademann, offers a fine new recording of Schnittke’s Penitential Psalms of 1988. It’s a key work from the composer’s last decade – extremely dense, rigorous and austere music. The choir and Rademann are completely inside this score, which they deliver with confidence and authority. (Indeed, they took the trouble to obtain a copy of the composer’s autograph manuscript, which diverges significantly from the published edition.) They are equally fine in the makeweight of the Three Sacred Hymns (1983), tiny a cappella pieces that are rooted in the Russian Orthodox tradition. The only shame is that, at less than an hour’s music, the CD is not well-filled.

PHILIP REED Read the full review on Agora Classica

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