Alfred Harrievich Schnittke (1934-1998)

Chandos CD Reviews: Symphony No. 7/Cello Concerto No. 1

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

Alexander Ivashkin cello
Russian State Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Valeri Polyansky
Recorded in: Mosfilm Studio, Moscow
Renowned Schnittke expert Alexander Ivashkin is the authoritative soloist in Schnittke’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 1.
This is a unique coupling of Schnittke’s Cello Concerto No. 1 and Symphony No. 7, with only one other recording of the Symphony currently available. This disc adds to the extensive catalogue of Schnittke’s works already available on Chandos.
Alexander Ivashkin and the combined Russian forces of the Russian State Symphony Orchestra under Valeri Polyansky prove the perfect exponents of Schnittke’s music.
Schnittke’s last symphonies, like all of his later compositions, become economical in the number of notes they use, and more modest in orchestration and duration. The music becomes more intense, and the language more difficult. Symphony No. 7 was commissioned by Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. (Masur also commissioned Schnittke’s Third Symphony.)
The first performance of Schnittke’s Symphony No. 7 took place in the Avery Fisher Hall, New York on 10 February 1994. He was present at all of the rehearsals and, characteristically, made changes up until the last moment. It is in three movements, the first begins with a solo violin and seems to take on the identity of a concerto, but soon the violin is joined by other instruments. The second movement follows without and break and is a short (fifty-six bars) Largo. The last movement – Allegro – is longer than the two previous movements put together. Schnittke introduces a favourite device of his, a ‘moto perpetuo’ that goes nowhere, and develops into a waltz which, played grotesquely by the lower instruments, ends the work. It was after the premiere that Schnittke returned very ill to Hamburg after suffering badly from the cold New York weather and ultimately suffered the second stroke which left him able only to write with his left hand and unable to speak.
The Cello Concerto No. 1 was the first work written by Schnittke after a near-fatal stroke in 1985 during which his heart stopped three times; the journey to the ‘next world’ is reflected in the Concerto. The music after his stroke became more dissonant and discordant, the melodies more contorted. It was originally intended to be a three-movement work, finishing with an Allegro vivace. Schnittke wrote: ‘Suddenly I was given this finale from somewhere, and I’ve just written it down’. It is a slow prayer-like Passacaglia.
‘In the Concerto the balance gives the cello star billing, and Ivashkin lives up to it.’
Gramophone on CHAN 9722 (Cello concerto No. 2 etc.)
‘Alexander Ivashkin is a first-rate cellist as well as Schnittke’s biographer; he is partnered here by the composer’s wife in interpretations that may fairly be described as definitive.’
Hi-Fi News on CHAN 9705 (complete works for cello and piano)
‘Excellent performances’
The Sunday Times on CHAN 9564 (Concerto for Piano and Strings)
‘Alexander Ivashkin… reveals himself here to be a cellist of international standing… this is a distinguished release, one that gives eloquent reportage on two of this composer’s most important and contrasting scores.’
American Record Guide

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