COMPOSERS: Schnittke; Raskatov
WORKS: Symphony No. 9 (completed Raskatov); Nunc dimittis
PERFORMER: Elena Vassilieva (mezzo-soprano); The Hilliard Ensemble; Dresden Philharmonie/Dennis Russell Davies
CATALOGUE NO: 476 6994
It’s a testament to Alfred Schnittke’s courage and determination that after suffering a series of increasingly debilitating strokes, he continued to work doggedly on a Ninth Symphony during the last few years of his life. The surviving manuscript in the composer’s very shaky hand proved to be almost undecipherable, however.
Fortunately, thanks to the intervention of Alexander Raskatov, whose own striking Nunc dimittis featured here was composed in tribute to the memory of his older Russian colleague, a performing version of the work was eventually realised and premiered for the first time in 2007 by the performers on this beautifully recorded release.
Inevitably a Ninth symphony is bound to raise high expectations, particularly given the extraordinary works in this genre that Schnittke composed earlier in his career. Yet despite a highly persuasive and committed performance, I find the Symphony somewhat unfathomable, its three movements lacking focus and the musical argument appearing to ramble in places.
Nonetheless the work certainly fits into the stylistic pattern of Schnittke’s later more austere style and includes many trademark characteristics such as the harpsichord tinkling away in the orchestral background and the sudden juxtapositions of passages of extreme dissonance with those of serene consonance.
Obviously devotees of the composer will want to sample this release, but newcomers to Schnittke should first turn to other works from the 1970s and ’80s where his genius and originality are more in evidence. Erik Levi