Schnittke's Piano Quintet, a creative response to his mother's death, is an austere, haunting work full of grief and tenderness that marks one of his early ventures into polystylistic writing. The opening piano solo is unique, a spare statement of puzzlement in the face of tragedy. It gives way to a waltz, as if recapturing a lost past, then the graceful dance melody literally disintegrates as the strings venture off into other regions, vainly trying to reassemble the theme and failing. At the end of its touching five movements the music's despair is transformed into serene, hard-won acceptance. Shostakovitch's 15th Quartet, his final statement in that form, premiered just months before his death. It's six slow movements are shot through with contemplative sadness and regret. The music is so rich in texture and substance that attention never flags.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the pianist’s death, EMI has brought out the largest and most comprehensive Cortot collection ever. The set offers nearly every commercial studio recording released under Cortot’s name on 78 shellac, vinyl LP, 45 rpm single, or compact disc, including unpublished takes already released on CD. To be sure, it is not quite “The Complete Cortot”. For example, the collection omits Cortot’s 1903 sessions accompanying soprano Felia Litvinne, plus a 1925 recording containing the second half only of Chopin’s First Ballade coupled on shellac with the same composer’s Second Impromptu. There is no broadcast material, either. However, we do get Cortot’s unpublished 1957 Chopin Preludes and Ballades, along with a few samples from the pianist’s long-rumored, unfinished Beethoven cycle recorded at the Ecole Normale in 1958/59