Alfred Harrievich Schnittke (1934-1998)

Chandos CD Reviews: Symphony No. 6/Concerto Grosso No.2

Posted in Uncategorized by R.A.D. Stainforth on June 18, 2007

Tatiana Grindenko violin
Alexander Ivashkin cello
Russian State Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Valeri Polyansky
Recorded in: Mosfilm Studio, Moscow

This is the latest recording in Polyansky’s survey of the music of Alfred Schnittke. The disc features Alexander Ivashkin, one of today’s most distinguished cellists, who was friends with the composer from 1969 until his death in 1998. Ivashkin has made an enormous contribution to the Chandos catalogue with his benchmark recordings of his native Russian repertoire. Chandos’ survey of Schnittke’s music has brought many new people to this fascinating repertoire and thus contributed to the increasing awareness of this composer’s works in recent years. Previous releases in the survey have been favourably received.

Schnittke’s Sixth Symphony was commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington and its director, Mstislav Rostropovich, and received its first performance with that orchestra in Moscow in 1993. Taken in isolation from his other eight symphonies (like all true symphonists, his works in the genre are staging posts, each new attempt marking a fresh beginning) it is a remarkable work. From the cataclysmic outset, unfolding all twelve notes of the chromatic scale in a piled-up chord on winds, brass and strings, the vividness of its refined yet dark sound world both disturbs and fascinates. This elegantly minimalist symphony contains references to his opera Historia von D Johann Fausten which Schnittke described as ‘a negative passion’. Dealing with the problem of good and evil, the prominent chorale-like (brass choir) elements in the symphony suggest a sub-text link with the opera.

In the earlier Concerto Grosso No. 2, the standard string-based baroque orchestra, with its interaction of solo concertino and massed ripieno, is enclosed within the giant envelope of the modern symphony orchestra, including a formidable array of percussion. It is difficult to escape the analogy of light and darkness. The composition takes as its motto theme the tune of ‘Silent Night’, and having set it up as an icon of peace and tranquillity in a solo cello prologue, leaves it far behind in a mass of whirling activity that gleams, darkens and explodes throughout the first three movements, but returns to it in all its calm for the long, drawn-out final movement.

Reviews

“With two fine soloists in the Concerto Grosso No. 2, this is a must for collectors of Chandos’ Schnittke series, and a welcome reminder of one of the later 20th-century’s most distinctive and troubling musical voices.”
Gramophone

”…it’s just that the new recording, supervised by Polyansky himself, reproduces the orchestral detail in such superior sound that it’s an automatic first choice. Add the fact that Gridenko and Ivashkin (a friend of Schnittke and his biographer) give superb accounts of their solo parts, with fine support from Polyansky’s Russian musicians, and it’s a clincher.”
Fanfare (USA)

”Certainly these works are both vital pieces in the post-modern jigsaw of Schnittke’s output, and these Chandos performances are at least as good as, if not better than, the rival versions on BIS. Tatiana Gridenko (one of the first Soviet advocates of Schnittke’s music) and Alexander Ivashkin (his biographer) bring an air of authority and commitment to the Concerto Grosso while Valeri Polyansky gives the internal tensions of the Symphony a razor’s edge.”
BBC Music Magazine

“Throughout this disc, the echt-Russian timbres of Valeri Polyansky’s band have a compulsion of their own, empowering what rhetoric there is with what seems like the appropriate clout.”
International Record Review

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