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Schnittke - Concerto grosso No. 1 & Symphony No. 9

Concerto Grosso No. 1 - version for flute, oboe, harpsichord, prepared piano and string orchestra
Symphony No. 9 - reconstruction by Alexander Raskatov

Sharon Bezaly (flute), Christopher Cowie (oboe), Cape Philharmonic Orchestra/Owain Arwel Hughes

BIS - Schnittke Edition - BISCD1727

A refreshingly interesting disc of a composer who is little heard or heard of in Britain nowadays, though a Schnittke archive is maintained in the Centre for Russian Music at Goldsmiths College, London. Professor Alexander Ivashkin, the annotator for these premiere recordings, was a close friend of the composer and dedicatee of some of his cello works - the world authority on Schnittkeā€™s music. The concerts of Russian music at Goldsmiths, in which he usually takes part, have often been reviewed by Musical Pointers.

It completes a BIS Schnittke Symphony cycle, but I confess to having only heard a few of them, and those not recently.

The first Concerto Grosso caused a stir in the late '70s as a prime example of Schnittke's polystylism, which is now old hat (and its features absorbed by many contemporary composers in their own fashion) but still potent. I remember it well from an early performance with Gidon Kremer and Tatiana Gridenko; hear them on a recommended disc DG 20/21 ECHO 471 626-2.

Here we have it in a later version, approved by the composer, with flute and oboe replacing the violin duettists. For full background and reviews of this still fascinating work, which the composer described the work as "a play of three spheres, the Baroque, the Modern and the banal", see Music Web. I expected to like hearing this seminal work again, and was not disappointed; the new performance is duly alert and pointed.

But I approached the last of his symphonies with apprehension. Few posthumous works have had so complicated a gestation. He composed it, writing with his left hand, after a stroke had robbed him of his speech. Various attempts have been made to decipher it and produce performable scores. They have included an over-elaboration by Rozhdestvensky which the composer heard and disapproved; subsequent efforts have involved Korndorf, Rastokov (his used here) and Boreyko...

In later years Schnittke's compositions became enigmatic and ascetic, but this one shows his continuing interest in 20th C deveopments by such as Hauer, Nono, Part and Silvestrov, and thugh it may seem to ramble a bit, the three movements have pleasingly unpredictable elements which take you with its journey. Ivashkin finds it ascetic but energetic and expressive, and I would go with that. It makes me think of another 9th, Malcolm Arnold's which was turned down by the BBC at first, but has slowly made its way...

I shall come back to both their 9ths, and welcome this release enthusiastically. Good recording in Cape Town and well presented.

Peter Grahame Woolf