Schnittke: Cello Concerto No. 2; (K)ein Sommernachtstraum

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COMPOSERS: Schnittke
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Cello Concerto No. 2; (K)ein Sommernachtstraum
PERFORMER: Alexander Ivashkin (cello); Russian State SO/Valeri Polyansky
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9722
The choreographer John Neumeier used excerpts from Schnittke’s First Cello Concerto for his ballet Medea; and in the other-wordly music of the Second Cello Concerto, completed in 1990, there seems a spiritual connection with the major Schnittke-Neumeier collaboration, Peer Gynt. Not that the score is mere sweetness and light. Stylistically, and in common with much late Schnittke, its perilously located centre of gravity lies somewhere between savage utterance and ethereality. Solidly built, this 40-minute symphony-concerto is amongst the composer’s most ambitious and expressive pieces, completed five years after the first of as many debilitating strokes whose effects he endured for the last 13 years of his life – paradoxically, an extraordinarily fertile period that saw the creation of more than half of his major works.

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Ivashkin plays the concerto with the same dedication displayed in his Chandos recording of the complete cello-and-piano works. Via a stifling Moderato, he directs the solo part, composed originally for Rostropovich, through an Allegro, a Lento and acerbic Allegretto mino to the concluding 16-minute Grave, the implications of whose nobly triadic opening remain unrealised at the nihilistic close. From the coupling, (Kein) Sommernachtstraum, comes a breath of warmer air, albeit delivered through the cool objectivity of Schnittke’s famous polystylism. Nicholas Williams