Wednesday 28 January 2015

Alfred Schnittke : 3rd Symphony - Audiophile Norway Review



The distinctive Russian composer Alfred Schnittke lived from 1934 to 1998. He is often perceived by many as the composer with the German name, but who is actually Russian. It's probably only partially correct, because he was really German all the time, with both father and mother with German origins. He was born in Engels on the River Volga, in an area with German bands. Schnitke defined himself as Russian without a drop of Russian blood, and after a period in 1977 where he stayed  and worked mostly in Austria and Germany, he received German citizenship and moved to Hamburg in 1990.
 
He was a contemporary composer who made musical ties to older composers, often in the form of borrowed motifs. This was one of his strongest trademarks, and he had a very active approach to reuse of older composers music.
 
Schnittke wrote a few songs, but also had a very large collection of Art for larger ensembles, in addition to some chamber music. He wrote many symphonies, and like many great composers before him, he was one of those who died shortly after entering its ninth.
 
This release includes Schnittke's Third Symphony, which was composed in 1981 and was commissioned for the concert hall Gewandhaus in Leipzig. This is a symphony that has an extremely musical span.
 
It opens in first movement Moderato with a harmony that grows to a crescendo and then toggle to fall off, and grow again.
 
Second movement Allegro has great contrasts, where it opens very light and bright, before it goes into great drama, and more modern musical language. And it is in this transition that my first associations with the much younger Norwegian composer Flint Juventino Beppe emerge. This applies to both the free, almost reckless musical phrasing, but also some use of sound pictures. Allegro is otherwise the movement with the greatest musical span, and stage pictures changes volatile across the centuries. We find several places quotes from Mozart's piano sonatas. But the interesting thing is not that Schnittke uses these musical quotations, but how he uses them.
 
Also in the third movement Allegro pessante, associations to Beppe pop up. This is otherwise a more thoroughly modern movement, and with high drama and great conviction. Tone language can give glimpses of links to a late Schotakovich, but there are also touches of electric guitar, and Schnittke is performing the masterpiece to let an electric bass almost act as soloist for granted in an otherwise packed instrumentation.
 
As a little amusing curiosity some places in the third movement there pop up associations to Musique Mecanque, a particularly exciting and different work by jazz musician Carla Bley, who moves here in the shoulder area into classical and contemporary music.
 
Adagio provides a great contrast with the almost lyrical opening. This whole movement is otherwise very associated with Gustav Mahler, not in the form of direct quotes, but in musical language and musical atmosphere. It is otherwise a very great finale of one particularly intriguing Third Symphony from Alfred Schnittke.
 
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin  (The Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin) has its history dating from 1923, and has always had a close relationship to contemporary music. On PENTATONE they have previously participated in a large number of recordings, where a complete range of Richard Wagner`s operas are the most dominant. RSB is here directed by Vladimir Jurowski, an otherwise high profile also from London Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Russian State Academic Symphony Orchestra.
 
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra does a brilliant job with the performance of Alfred Schnittke's Third Symphony. Specifically, there is reason to praise conductor and orchestra for the masterful way the great musical contrasts are integrated.
 
The sound
 
Schnittke's Third Symphony was recorded in Haud des Rundfunks in Berlin in July 2014. The organ was recorded separately on Seifert organ in the St. Matthias Kirche, Berlin-Schöneberg. The release is, as always at PENTATONE in the shape of a hybrid multichannel SACD, which also has stereo tracks as DSD + Redbook.
 
The sound on Schnittke - 3 rd Symphony is very good. It holds good dynamic contrasts, and stereo perspective is rock solid. PENTATONE has a somewhat more active multichannel mix than some of their other releases, in terms of that we get something closer the orchestra. And it suits his music very well, in that it provides better insight and involvement in the large orchestra and occasionally complex orchestration.
 
Wrapping
 
I need to emphasize that PENTATONE on their releases lately have introduced an extra attractive packaging, in that the traditional jewel-case in SACD style has been supplemented with a cardboard wrapper quite similar to the one ECM uses on their releases . In combination with a uniform and elegant black finish on the disc label, this gives a particularly delicate wrapping. Some might argue that this is irrelevant, but I think that far too many record companies underestimate the importance of providing a wrapping to the records that reinforces owners desire. Not least in our time, when the physical disk media is highly challenged.
 
This is a particularly exciting release that provides an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with one of the last century's most exciting composers. Alfred Schnittke joins a number of contemporary composers who retain contact with former music, and he does it in a very distinctive way.
 
Schnittke's Third Symphony is one of the most exciting compositions he has written, and Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Jurowski are brilliant messengers of this distinctive musical message, in a SACD with sound of high class.
 
Karl-Erik Sylthe, 27 January 2015.