Schnittke, Shostakovich: Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a

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COMPOSERS: Schnittke,Shostakovich
LABELS: Delos
WORKS: Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a
PERFORMER: Moscow CO/Constantine Orbelian (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SACD 3259 (Hybrid SACD)
Music first. The Moscow Chamber Orchestra is a wonderful ensemble and gives a disciplined and polished but by no means unspontaneous acount of Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony (aka the transcription for string orchestra of the Eighth String Quartet). Alfred Schnittke’s 1979 Concerto for piano and strings – in which Constantine Orbelian both plays the solo part and conducts – opens as a meditation punctuated with uneasy clusters, weird dissonances (of motion and colour as well as harmony), banal cadences and wrong-note conflicts, brutalities, microtonal distortions. And all that in just the first section (of five). There are allusions to Beethoven and Shostakovich, a parodistical, distorted waltz, and more, to come. It is a gestural, doubtless autobiographical journey, ritualistic, violent, often bafflingly eclectic, and in the end its resumption, now spiritually replete, of the meandering resignation with which it opened has telling power. This reading hits one between the eyes.

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Technophiles will want to know that this release is a Super Audio CD, based on the Direct Stream Digital technology. The disc plays on conventional CD systems, too, though of course without the increased dynamic and frequency ranges or the extra data recorded on the SACD layer of the disc. Even on a CD player, it’s plain that this is a superb recording, deep and warm and staggeringly true in spacial definition. Stephen Pettitt