Schnittke: Symphony No. 3

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COMPOSERS: Schnittke
LABELS: PentaTone
WORKS: Symphony No. 3
PERFORMER: Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186 485 (hybrid CD/SACD)


Commissioned in the early 1980s by the city of Leipzig, Schnittke’s Third Symphony both reflects upon and deconstructs a broad sweep of German music from Bach to the end of the 20th century. Its four weighty movements encompass a fascinating collage of stylistic allusions: hints of Wagner’s Rheingold inflect the textural soundscape of the opening Moderato, and there are deliberately disconcerting suggestions of Mozart at crucial points in the ensuing Allegro. Thereafter, the symphonic narrative takes on nightmarish visions of evil in the third movement Allegro pesante before collapsing with exhaustion into a lengthy and emotionally introverted Mahlerian Adagio.

The juxtaposition of such disparate musical material could have degenerated into incoherence, but such is Schnittke’s mastery that we are held spellbound by his boldness and compelling musical argument. The Third calls for a massive orchestra of 111 musicians, its huge surges of sound brilliantly handled by Pentatone’s engineers who provide a much clearer focus than the comparatively muffled acoustics on the rival BIS recording. More importantly, Vladimir Jurowski, who conducted the work successfully with the LPO some years ago, delivers an absolutely stunning account that vividly captures the work’s drama and emotional intensity.


Erik Levi