GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST 2018
case here with all sorts of subtle emphases and shifts of dynamics that highlight, for example, an unnerving stab of harmony or, in general, the panoply of bell-like sonorities that Rachmaninov achieves with only the rarest recourse to bells themselves.
Schnittke . Pärt Pärt Magnificat. Nunc dimittis Schnittke Psalms of Repentance Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir / Kaspars Putniņš BIS F Í BIS2292 (60’ • DDD/DSD • T/t)
Jansons is not averse to tweaking the tempo markings, for instance at the end of the first movement: according to the score, the Meno mosso, Maestoso marking at fig 25 (5’24”) holds good until the end of the movement, but Jansons puts his foot on the accelerator at 5’46” in a way that sounds obtrusive first time round because you are not expecting it but which you get used to on repeated listening. In the great scheme of things it is not going to lessen the impact of the recording as a whole. The sustained, proper Lento of the second movement is sublimely judged, more or less on a par in timing with Svetlanov in 1958 and 2002, though Svetlanov exhibited an uncanny ability to reveal and exploit the music’s tensile capacity with a much more spacious reading in 1979. Jansons’s third movement bristles with terror, the chorus excelling in those exacting chromatic vocal parts, the orchestra contributing the shivers and bronze bell images of Edgar Allan Poe as reimagined by Konstantin Balmont, with notable thuds of foreboding from the double basses and bass drum at 5’18”. Here, and in the Lento lugubre of the finale, Jansons’s command of rubato and the music’s ebb and flow of dynamic and pacing is innate, inspiring and spot-on.
Jansons has already recorded the Symphonic Dances with the St Petersburg Philharmonic and with the Royal Concertgebouw and, exceptional though those discs are, this latest performance with the BRSO, recorded live in January last year, is even more finely honed, more lithe in its muscle and graced throughout with Jansons’s trademark lucidity and luminosity. The orchestral timbre pits freshness and crispness against mellow warmth, mixing the two in an amalgam that ideally suits the music’s rhythmic bite and echoes of nostalgia. The joy of discs in general is that you can own more than one; I still treasure Svetlanov’s way with both these works (Regis has an excellent 1986 live performance of the Symphonic Dances). But this new Jansons coupling, lustrously recorded, is of such outstanding quality that it is in a class of its own. Geoffrey Norris (4/18) The Bells – selected comparisons: USSR SO, Svetlanov (5/81R) (REGI) RRC1144 BBC SO, Svetlanov (ICA) ICAC5069 Symphonic Dances – selected comparisons: St Petersburg PO, Jansons (12/93R) (EMI/WARN) 500885-2 or 2564 62782-7 RCO, Jansons (2/06) (RCO) RCO05004 USSR SO, Svetlanov (REGI) RRC1178
Schnittke’s Psalms of Repentance constitute one of the most technically challenging works in the entire choral literature (having conducted them myself, I have total confidence in this assertion). Notes and chords must be plucked out of the air in the strangest of harmonic surroundings; there are lines of tremendous angularity, densely chromatic chords and ever-changing time signatures. The latter is because they are entirely dictated by the texts, which are not in fact psalms but spiritual meditations on repentance from the 16th century: for this reason, a better version of the work’s title (Stikhi pokayannye) would be ‘Penitential Verses’, the designation that will be used in the new version to be published by the Schnittke Edition in St Petersburg.
This is not the first recording – there are four to my knowledge, the most exceptional of which is that by the Swedish Radio Choir under Tõnu Kaljuste (ECM, 5/99) – but it may just be the best. The Estonians have always rejoiced in a warm, rich sound and perfect blend, and guided by the utterly precise and dynamic Kaspars Putnin,≈ they give here a truly outstanding rendition that picks up every emotional and spiritual nuance with no sacrifice of technical perfection. Moments such as the blaze of major-key light in verse 4 or the pacing of the astounding climax at the end of verse 5, followed by the chromatic buzzing of the upper voices that opens verse 6, send shivers down one’s spine.
This work has been waiting for choirs able to do this, because the technical challenges are not the most important thing about this music. They are there in the service of the text, and while it is hardwon, there is consolation to be found in this penitential reflection on life and death, illustrated most profoundly by the final movement, which is textless, and one of the most profoundly beautiful things Schnittke ever wrote.
Pairing this monumental work with Pärt’s Magnificat and Nunc dimittis is an inspired idea, moving as they do from darkness to light. The recording is superb, clear and never too resonant, and the booklet notes by Gavin Dixon are excellent. Ivan Moody (3/18)
‘Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott’ ‘Luther and the Music of the Reformation’ Altenburg Nun komm der Heiden Heiland Bernhard Missa super Christ unser Herre – Kyrie; Gloria Burck Die deutsche Passion nach Johannes M Franck Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott Gesius Der du bist drei in Einigkeit Hammerschmidt Freude, Freude, grosse Freude. Wie lieblich sind seine Wohnungen Luther Dies sind die heiligen zehn Gebot Othmayr Mein himmlischer Vater. O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde gross H Praetorius Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam M Praetorius Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen. Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. Herre, nun lässt du deinen Diener in Frieden fahren Resinarius Vater unser der du bist im Himmel Scheidemann Praeambulum in D minor Scheidt Das alte Jahr vergangen ist. Ascendo ad Patrem meum. Christ ist erstanden. Christ lag in Todesbanden. Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund. Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ Schein Dies sind die heiligen zehn Gebot. O Jesulein, mein Jesulein Schütz Aus tiefer Not. Meine Seele erhebt den Herren. Selig sind die Toten Selle Die mit Tränen säen. Veni Sancte Spiritus Siefert Puer natus in Bethlehem Strungk Lass mich dein sein und bleiben Steffens Jesus Christus unser Heiland Walter Wir glauben all an einen Gott Vox Luminis / Lionel Meunier with Bart Jacobs org Ricercar F b RIC376 (155’ • DDD • T/t)
This year has seen several fine recordings celebrating the quincentenary of the founding act of the
Reformation but this is comfortably the most searching and artistically rewarding that I’ve listened to. The easy option is to confine oneself to Schütz, Praetorius, even Bach or Telemann in some cases – never mind that the earliest of these was born well after Martin Luther’s death in 1546. While Schütz and Praetorius do feature here, there is also much earlier music, stretching right back to Johann Walter, one of Luther’s earliest musical collaborators. The music is of consistently high quality, the selections by ‘minor’ figures frequently as telling as those by acknowledged masters. Breadth of chronological coverage is matched by breadth of genre: there’s everything from Latin motets (of which Luther was very fond) to organ chorale variations and a gramophone.co.uk
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GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2018 9