Schnittke: Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Schnittke
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: BBC National Orchestra of Wales/ Tadaaki Otaka
CATALOGUE NO: CD-747 DDD
They may not be the first and last things, symphonically speaking, but one gathers that there will be little more music from the ailing Schnittke, so that with the exception of the Eighth Symphony, these releases are the musical bookends of the composer’s symphonic work. They might also be said to personify a certain phase in 20th-century music. The First Symphony, premiered in 1972 but full of Sixties madness, leads from nihilism to polystylism, with a playful dig at the past and rich promise for the future. The Seventh, composed in 1993, asserts a deep pessimism that recalls the despair of Shostakovich, but with less sense of worldly than of personal sorrow.

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That’s surely the message of the haunting solo violin melody that begins the work, and the funereal waltz that closes it. The Sixth, considerably longer than its successor, shows greater musical contrasts, still dark, but with a resilience and sweep of reference that includes Bruckner, Tchaikovsky and Schnittke’s own ballet music for Peer Gynt. The First Symphony, recorded live in Moscow, supersedes the BIS account with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic; good in its way, but not a patch on this Chandos release for quality of recorded sound. Nicholas Williams