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When listening to “Psalms of Repentance,” a CD of music by Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998), I was amazed at the sounds produced by an unaccompanied, mixed choir. I found this 1988 work to be the most moving piece I’ve heard by Schnittke.

For the first 11 Psalms, the composer set Russian texts from the Russian Orthodox Liturgy. The 12th Psalm was purely syllabic.

While often quite dissonant, the music itself also had moments of warm consonance. At times, it seemed as if it was “spoken” as opposed to “sung.”

To note just a few of the myriad emotions I experienced when listening to these pieces, I found them to be profoundly confessional, exhilarating, and meditative. Here, Schnittke’s reputed polystylism was not as evident.

At approximately 52-minutes in duration, this 1999 ECM release was recorded during 1996 by the Swedish Radio Choir, under the direction of Tõnu Kaljuste (1953-). Aided and abetted by superb engineering which captured the dynamic extremes in the music, these artists cast a magical spell over the listener. The accompanying booklet includes the texts in Russian, along with German-English translations.

 

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