Schnittke: Symphony No. 0; Nagasaki

COMPOSERS: Schnittke
ALBUM TITLE: Schnittke
WORKS: Symphony No. 0; Nagasaki
PERFORMER: Hanneli Rupert (mezzo-soprano); Cape Town Opera Voice of the Nation; Cape Philharmonic Orchestra/Owain Arwel Hughes
The Symphony No. 0, written between 1956 and 1957 by the 23-year-old Alfred Schnittke whilst he was a student at the Moscow Conservatoire, is a surprisingly traditional but beautifully orchestrated four-movement work that offers very few hints as to the radical direction his music would take in the 1960s. As the composer openly acknowledged, the influence of Shostakovich, whose Tenth Symphony had made such a profound impact on the young composer, is very pervasive and the score also abounds in allusions to Prokofiev (particularly to the latter’s Sixth Symphony in the middle of the Scherzo), Myaskovsky and even to Rachmaninov.


In contrast, the oratorio Nagasaki, composed one year later, was the first of many works that managed to displease Soviet officialdom for its so-called ‘Expressionist’ tendencies heard at their most vivid in the third movement ‘On That Fateful Day’ in which the atomic bomb explosion is graphically realised through music of piercing dissonance, the chorus in places responding with unusual sonorities such as moaning and shouting. Although the composer later regarded the work as being stylistically naïve, there is no doubting the sincerity of its message and the dramatic mastery with which Schnittke handles his huge forces.These clearly engineered world premiere performances boast highly committed playing from the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. In Nagasaki the diction of the Cape Town Opera Voice of the Nation could ideally be clearer in places, but this slight disadvantage does not seriously detract from the strong impact of this release.