Schnittke: Symphony No. 2 (St Florian)

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COMPOSERS: Schnittke
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (St Florian)
PERFORMER: Marina Katsman (contralto), Yaroslav Zdorov (countertenor), Oleg Dolgov (tenor), Sergei Veprintsev (bass); Russian State SO & Symphonic Cappella/Valery Polyansky
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9519
As the archetype of liturgical drama, even in our own agnostic century, the Mass has been used ironically by Britten and as a symphonic blueprint by Alfred Schnittke. A ‘Missa invisibile’ is in fact how he describes his Second Symphony, ‘St Florian’, inspired by a visit in 1977 to the cloisters where Bruckner worked and was buried. As it happens, the Symphony’s 1980 premiere by the BBC SO conducted by Rozhdestvensky was a major event that did much to further Schnittke’s music in the UK.

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Carlton now releases the digitally remastered tapes of that performance, paired with a composite work, the Pas de quatre of 1979, written by Schnittke, Denisov, Part and the conductor. The ‘authentic’ quality of both these readings is highly attractve. Weaving their strands of plainchant through complex textures, the BBC Singers and Symphony Chorus give a vintage reading. In the Credo, Paul Esswood’s rich and sexy countertenor is in striking contrast to the refinement of Yaroslav Zdorov in the Chandos new release. There’s fine playing here by a Russian orchestra, though distantly recorded. Both Carlton and Chandos are warmly recommended, but choose Chandos if intrusive sounds of a live recording are not to your liking. Nicholas Williams