An intense and emotional performance and recording of these contemporary Russian works.

Schnittke: Psalms of Repentance; Pärt: Magnificat & Nunc dimittis / Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir / Conductor Kaspars Putniņš / BIS Hybrid SACD 2292 TT: 59:51 (1/5/2018)

BIS have given us a wonderful pairing of works by two contemporary Russian composer; Alfred Schnittke and Arvo Pärt.

Schnittke and Pärt lived through times of remarkable change in the last decades of the Soviet Union. From the 1970s, state restrictions on religion were gradually relaxed and this was reflected in the arts and especially in music. Schnittke’s adoption of Christianity was triggered by the death of his mother in 1972, and culminated in his later conversion to Catholicism. Pärt was from a nominally Lutheran background in Estonia, but embraced the Orthodox faith in the 1970s, following intensive study of liturgical music. Both composers began to incorporate religious themes into their work, moving away from the modernist abstraction that had characterized their early careers.

This hybrid SACD offers Schnittke’s Psalms of Repentance and Pärt’s Magnificat & Nunc dimittis.

Although the two works were written about a decade apart, they are an excellent choice for a listening session.

Performed by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, conducted by Kaspars Putnins, the sound is ethereal and compelling. The recording venue, the St. Nicholas Church in Tallinn Estonia is a perfect match for this music.

I listened to the 5.0 mix on the SACD layer and it was a lovely sound, with a superb performance by the Estonians. One simply gets lost in this emotional music.

It’s interesting to hear music from Schnittke’s later period, and Pärt’s music is always welcome and refreshing.

Highly recommended.

—Mel Martin