WORKS: Symphony No. 7; Cello Concerto No. 1
PERFORMER: Alexander Ivashkin (cello); Russian State SO/Valeri Polyansky
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9852
The latest instalment in Chandos’s loyally complete Schnittke cycle contains one of his finest works, but it is not the Seventh Symphony. The First Cello Concerto is the best of Schnittke, as concentrated and searingly direct as anything he wrote. The melodic material was sketched just before the composer suffered the first of the massive strokes that ultimately killed him, and the working of the material in the aftermath of that near-death experience becomes almost surreal in the expressive weight it takes on. There’s the torso of a conventional movement concerto behind the work, but the proportions are deformed and ultimately atomised, and given a codicil in the shape of a hymn-like passacaglia, which finally achieves the sense of manic ecstasy for which the whole work seems to have been searching. It’s powerful stuff powerfully delivered by the cellist Alexander Ivashkin here.
Composed nearly ten years later, the Seventh Symphony lacks that coherence and emotional weight. The textures are positively skeletal. Much of it consists of a single line shared out around the orchestra, and occasionally melting into clusters of pitches; the slow movement is punctuated by silences and there’s an ironic, twisted waltz in the finale, but the spareness doesn’t bring eloquence, just a sense of emptiness, and it’s hard to imagine any performance adding up to any more than Polyansky’s does. Andrew Clements