Holst Singers, Stephen Layton (conductor)
Unquestionably one of the choral masterpieces of the 20th century, Alfred Schnittke's Concerto for Mixed Chorus is an extended setting (about 40 minutes' duration) of words from 'The Book of Lamentations' by the Armenian monk Grigor Narekatsi (951-1003). Written in 1984/5, it is scored for a very large choir and for this recording Holst Singers were augmented by large contingents of London's finest singers.
Like Wagner (in Tannhäuser) and Richard Strauss (in Guntram), Schnittke was attracted to the poetry and music of the minnesingers, the German medieval tradition of courtly lyrics and secular monophony. At first he planned to write an instrumental piece (intended for his third violin concerto) based on songs by the minnesingers, but he later rejected this idea and decided to keep these vocal melodies for vocal music. The result is Minnesang (1980/81) for 52 voices (18 sopranos, 12 altos, 10 tenors and 12 basses).
The third work on the disc is the haunting and evocative Voices of Nature, from 1972. This is a vocalise—that is, without words—for ten female voices and vibraphone. Its first public performance took place in spring 1975. Superb performances directed by the recipient of the recent Gramophone Award for the Best Choral Record of the Year (Britten's Sacred and Profane, CDA67140), Stephen Layton.