Alfred Harrievich Schnittke (1934-1998)

CD Review: Film Music (Volume II)

Posted in Uncategorized by R.A.D. Stainforth on September 12, 2007

Review by David Blomenberg

Clowns und Kinder (1976) [8:44]
Der Walzer (1969) [11:20]
Die Glasharmonika (1968) [20:50]
Der Aufstieg (1976) [14:16]
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Frank Strobel
rec. Jesus-Christus-Kirche May 2002, February 2004

CAPRICCIO 71061 [55:30]

For those who find Schnittke forbidding and stark, here we have him, at the outset, at his most accessible. As soon as the introduction for Clowns und Kinder is under way, we find a very outgoing Schnittke, clearly revealing the influence of Shostakovich. One could say he is leaning a bit heavily — the opening bars immediately call to mind Shostakovich’s own film music and Jazz suites, right down to the instrumentation of the title music and following waltz-intermezzo. Schnittke knows when he has a good thing, and the theme for the waltz haunts most of the subsequent music for this film. It shows up first in the upper strings and ends with the piano replicating the wonderfully off-kilter tumbling figure before it stops abruptly. One doesn’t normally think of Schnittke as hummable, but hummable — even catchy — this is.

The disc moves to a slightly cooler tone with the next film, Der Walzer. The waltz theme insistently bobs through all of the pieces here. Schnittke can’t resist the urge to quote Strauß, who is dragged before the footlights with a swelling in volume before he is unceremoniously dumped off the lip of the stage right onto the chimes. Schnittke returns to his own waltz theme before all crashes into a dissonant, tense episode. In spite of all the waltz swims to the surface of such dark water and all returns to sunny sociability.

An exciting aspect of this recording is the programming which is not chronological, but begins with Schnittke at his most accessible, progressing on to more austere and, well, Schnittke-like soundworlds. The Glasharmonika shows aspects of the concerti grossi, beginning with frosty, brittle music that slides into a quaintly comforting section that recalls earlier music styles. It combines the use of a Theremin and early Russian electronics to replicate an unearthly mezzo-soprano part. This is a challenging score, both in the listening as well as in the performing, and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin do admirably.

Perhaps most forbidding of all is the final score Der Aufstieg, the first track of which is a seven-minute-long crescendo with outbursts from the brass, mounting after a very long build-up to a crashing climax. This is followed by the “On the Sled” section, an oppressive, obsessive piece reeling in cold and self-doubt. The regret of horrible deeds haunts both the movie and the music, ending strangely unresolved, not with a bang but a whimper.

The sound quality of this SACD, played for this review on a conventional player, is exceptional, and the argument is emphatically stated in playback that Schnittke’s film music is an artistically significant area of his oeuvre that needs to be explored further. An exciting release.


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