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Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-98)
Symphony No. 8a. Suite from 'The Census Listb.
bLev Butenin (reciter); Russian State Symphony Orchestra/Valeri Polyansky.
Recorded in Mosfilm New Studio in aDecember 1998, bJanuary 18th, 2000.
[DDD] [66'55]

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This is the second recording of Schnittke's Eighth Symphony that Chandos have issued (the other was on CHAN9359 and featured the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra under Polyansky's mentor at the Moscow State Conservatory, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky). It has to be said that one could not ask for a more committed performance than Polyansky's.

The Eighth Symphony of 1994 is a most impressive conception, with unmistakable echoes of Shostakovich in its working of themes but also with its own entirely individual sound-world (the opening horn solo is perhaps too modern for that comparison, for example). Polyansky gives the intense block harmonies of the second movement (allegro moderato) their full weight. It is in the third movement, however, that this performance comes into its own. This extended Lento (16'37) is delicate yet exquisitely anguished: the generally sparse orchestration makes its full impact here (tuttis are a rarity in late Schnittke). The glacial end to the symphony is particularly tellingly conveyed.

Schnittke wrote the music for the play The Census List (after Gogol) in 1978 for the Taganka Theatre in Moscow, a theatre group known for its avant-garde slant (and one with which the narrator of the present performance, Lev Butenin, was associated). The play acted as a sort of reply in art to criticisms received from the Soviet authorities (à la Shostakovich). It reveals a different side of this composer, one that has a distinctly cheeky sense of humour. The outrageous pastiches, the quotation of the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with attendant clusters in the Overture, the shadowy parody of a waltz in 'The Ball' and the Stravinskian circus music of the Finale (not too far removed from Petrushka's fairground) all add up to a riotous tonic for the angst generated by the Eighth Symphony.

Well worth investing in and a worthy companion to the coupling of the Seventh Symphony and the Cello Concerto (Soloists Alexander Ivashkin) on CHAN9852.

Colin Clarke


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