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Schnittke: Symphony No 8, Etc / Jia, Norrköping So


Release Date: 03/29/2005 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 1217   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Alfred Schnittke
Conductor:  Lü Jia
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norrköping Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 7 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

All three of the works on this CD were composed during 1993 and 1994, a painful and yet prolific period of Alfred Schnittke’s life. Despite suffering three strokes between 1990 and 1994, he wrote over 20 works, including three operas, three symphonies and miscellaneous orchestral pieces, chamber music, and songs, as if in a fever of obsessive creativity. However, Schnittke’s illnesses and state of mind no doubt affected the style and substance of this music, and the three examples here reveal a composer who has replaced the gleefully polystylistic freedom of his earlier years with a dark, stark, psychologically motivated restraint.

The Eighth Symphony is over 35 minutes long, yet there’s a claustrophobic feel to much of it,
Read more as the music’s uncomplicated motifs expand and contract but never seem to find an escape from the structural labyrinth. Schnittke’s orchestration is ear-catching, but the material is bland and uninvolving; despite a Mahlerian resolution to the slow third movement, it isn’t until the finale that pent-up emotion spills out. It is surprising, to me anyway, that with several of Schnittke’s symphonies so far undocumented on disc, this largely undemonstrative one here receives its third recording. In his review of the symphony’s initial release, Paul Rapoport (Fanfare 19:1) used words and phrases like “bleak,” “disembodied,” “rewarding and disturbing,” and “depressing mental landscape” to describe the music, largely echoed (despite uncovering a trace of “eventual transcendence”) by Robert Kirzinger (Fanfare 25:1) in his review of the second (both, by the way, issued on Chandos). I concur, but with mixed feelings; I find a fascination with the morose and melancholy when the artistic expression displays Schnittke’s degree of sincerity and craft.

The two occasional pieces are similarly constructed, but less engaging. The Symphonic Prelude begins with a brass fanfare and follows with a sequence of rather grim variations that gradually grow increasingly chromatic, with curious instrumental coloring. It’s mostly slow and somber, somewhat atmospheric, but to what end? There is tension but no release or resolution, and the music simply grinds to a halt. The concert overture For Liverpool is an extroverted showpiece but without flash or fireworks, drifting through Wagnerian low brass episodes, a recurring chorale, and concluding with a slight, sardonic waltz crushed under a thunderous, dissonant chord.

Conductor Lü Jia has established an impressive career fronting various European orchestras, and his work with these dour, enigmatic scores shows why. Not having heard the Rozhdestvensky or Polyansky accounts (see the above mentioned reviews), I can’t compare them to Jia; however, his decision to emphasize dynamic contrasts and sustain momentum at all cost prevents the music from bogging down into the depths of the composer’s depression.

Art Lange, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

1.
Sinfonischer Vorspiel by Alfred Schnittke
Conductor:  Lü Jia
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norrköping Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1994; Hamburg, Germany 
Length: 17 Minutes 25 Secs. 
2.
Symphony no 8 by Alfred Schnittke
Conductor:  Lü Jia
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norrköping Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1993-1994; Hamburg, Germany 
Length: 35 Minutes 42 Secs. 
3.
For Liverpool by Alfred Schnittke
Conductor:  Lü Jia
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norrköping Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1994; Hamburg, Germany 
Length: 12 Minutes 32 Secs. 

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