BIS is proud to present the only available collection of the complete symphonies by Alfred Schnittke. The recordings, part of the Schnittke Edition begun in 1987, have been brought together in a 6-CD boxed set which also includes an initiated essay by Schnittke’s close associate Alexander Ivashkin: a fascinating chapter in the history of the late 20th-century symphony.
Alfred Schnittke's score for the full length ballet, 'Peer Gynt,' is one of the orchestral masterworks of his final period. The libretto transplants Peer from the situations in Ibsen's famous play to analogous ones of the modern world. The musical universe is as far removed from the world of Grieg's famous incidental music as can be imagined. The composer's famous polystylism is used to depict the various worlds that Peer encounters along his travels–a ragtime polka for Hollywood and the film industry, a pseudo bit of Grieg for his yearnings for home, and so forth. Because of the dramatic context, the individual numbers are of manageable length, and the composer's experience as the creator of some sixty film scores comes fully into play.
Schnittke as we know is a very unique composer. "all composers are unique". Well some more so than others, and some MUCH more so unique than others. Schnittke, like Pettersson stand out as the 2 greatest late 20th century composers and 2 of the greatest ever in the past 300 yrs.
Alfred Schnittke's Concerto Grosso No. 4/Symphony No. 5 was commissioned by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam for its centenary. Riccardo Chailly led the orchestra in its premiere performance on November 10th, 1988. However, Neemi Jarvi led the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra of Sweden in this, the work's first recording, in December 1988, released on BIS in 1989.
If you were ever faced with having to own one–and only one–Alfred Schnittke CD, this would be an excellent choice. A collection with Seid Nüchtern und Wachet (better known as the Faust Cantata) as its anchor, this set also features inspired performances of the large, pulsing Ritual as well as a pair of additional large orchestral works: (K)ein Sommernachtstaum and Passacaglia. These are sprawling things, each invoking styles by the seeming dozens in blasts of energy. Schnittke's is a music of embarrassing riches, a palette he intentionally overfills in a self-consciously postmodern pastiche that speaks to the twin 20th-century Russian traditions of (in music) rich orchestration and (in politics) political repression. So it is that the Faust Cantata can weave between c. 16th-century texts and a very familiar liturgical choral style and a gut-busting set of solos that drive the piece to a frenzy.
Two large scale Schnittke works featuring choir. The Symphony No. 4 is brittle, frequently dissonant and abstract, but not wholly inaccessible; not a piece to immediately grab at a listener. While demanding, the work has sections of alien beauty, such as before and after the entrance of "Ave Maria". Unfortunately the entire piece is relegated to a single track on the CD. The Requiem is more immediately approachable. Eerie and gothic, I'm surprised that it hasn't shown up in a soundtrack. The rock drumming near the end seems a little shocking but is surprisingly effective without seeming a pandering fusion piece.
The violin sonatas by Alfred Schnittke extend over his whole career. The First Sonata is among his earliest major pieces while the Second Sonata typifies the confrontational manner of the works that followed.
Schnittke's Gogol Suite (1976) is a collection of eight very short movements lasting between one and eight minutes. They're quirky and fun. Essentially, they're experiments in collage techniques and they take their sources from Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Schnittke's own temperament. (They will remind you of some of Shostakovich's writing for The Bolt and The Gadfly.) Labyrinths (1971) is a five-part ballet score for a ballet that never emerged. One can hardly see this as a ballet. Parts of it suggest Japanese No theatre, other parts stand on their own, nightmarish as they are. Unusual music.
Symphony No. 6. Life and work come together in a particularly disturbing way in Alfred Schnittke's Sixth Symphony. Schnittke wrote the work in 1992, after sustained his second major stroke; he suffered his first in 1985, would suffer another in 1994, and, eventually, a fourth in 1998 would take the composer's life. While Schnittke's debilitation was constant and cruel, his fortitude was more astonishing, and his post-1985 "late period" bore a tremendous spring of new music: 3 operas, 4 symphonies, 6 concerti, and many smaller works.
The first disc dedicated to the works of Alfred Schnittke on BIS was released in 1987, and has since been followed by 23 other titles, including a large part of his chamber music as well as the symphonies and other orchestral works. That first disc featured Concerto grosso No.1 in the original version for two violins and strings – the work which to some extent became Schnittke’s breakthrough in the West in the late 1970s. On the present disc that same work is heard again, but now in a world première recording of Schnittke’s own version with solo parts for flute and oboe. Soloists are Sharon Bezaly and, on the oboe, Christopher Cowie , making his first appearance on BIS. They are supported by the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Owain Arwel Hughes, a team that collaborated already on the most recent Schnittke title in the BIS catalogue.