Schnittke: Symphony No. 1

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COMPOSERS: Schnittke
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Symphony No. 1
PERFORMER: Carl-Axel Dominique (piano), Ben Kallenberg (violin), Åke Lännerholm (trombone); Royal Stockholm PO/Leif Segerstam
CATALOGUE NO: CD-577 DDD
For absolute fidelity, Schnittke’s First Symphony would require a video disc. Tubular bells, unseen, announce the work’s opening; onstage walks a lone trumpeter who is gradually joined by the rest of the orchestra, tuning up, until the conductor’s arrival, applause, and the start of the symphony proper. Except that you’ve already witnessed the real beginning; and some 60 minutes later, when it returns, the impression is of a vast, interlocking cycle about to recommence. These are serious tricks, captured aurally if not visually on BIS’s superb Schnittke Edition recording, along with the Ivesian range of texture and influence that belong to this seminal piece in the composer’s output. First performed in 1972, it shows the composer, at the time a serialist, defining his relationship to classical form. The magnificent collage of quotations that results – borrowing from Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Beethoven and plainsong, plus a ‘funfair-scherzo’ combining Baroque manners with a jazz cadenza that could stand impressively by itself – is a landmark en route to his celebrated ‘polystylism’. Many composers subsequently have mixed styles, crossed historical divides. Few have done so with such sustained eloquence and grandeur. Nicholas Williams

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