Schnittke: Symphony No. 8; Symphonic Prelude; For Liverpool

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COMPOSERS: Schnittke
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Schnittke
WORKS: Symphony No. 8; Symphonic Prelude; For Liverpool
PERFORMER: Norrköping SO/Lü Jia
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1217
These substantial, intermittently imposing works all date from 1993-94. The Symphonic Prelude and For Liverpool are essentially different takes on the idea of chorale variations, a form that also underlies the Eighth Symphony’s first movement. Though the glowing, almost Vaughan Williams-ish harmonies of For Liverpool’s opening might seem a nod to English music, we are soon, as in the other two pieces, firmly on post-Mahler, post-Shostakovich territory. The Prelude’s beefy, vacant fanfares dissolve eventually into nothingness.

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Symphony No. 8, though gaunt and austere, is a more coherent and developed score than the numb and splintered Nos 6 and 7; it harbours an aching central Lento that sounds like a requiem for Russian melancholy. Lü Jia takes rather brisker tempos than either Rozhdestvensky with the Royal Stockholm Orchestra or Valeri Polyansky with the Russian State Symphony in two previous recordings of the symphony (both Chandos), demonstrating that if held on a taut rein, the music does all hang together convincingly. He is, on the other hand, less emotionally committed than his Russian rivals – especially Polyansky, whose high-pressure emotionalism is rendered all the more poignant by the aggressively Russian tone of his brass-playing. To my mind Polyansky remains the benchmark interpretation, but this Norrköping performance is an effective reading, and the grouping of these three works is a useful and attractive one. Calum MacDonald