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.
Five of the discs on this six-CD set are previously released Naxos recordings of a broad variety of works by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. The set offers a generous sampling of works spanning the composer's career, from his polystylistic Collage über BACH (1964) for orchestra to his 2001 Nunc dimittis for a cappella chorus.