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"Schnittke: Symphony No. 9; Raskatov: Nunc Dimittis"
The Hilliard Ensemble
"Schnittke: Symphony No. 9; Raskatov: Nunc Dimittis"
Genres: Pop, Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (4) - Disc #1

Includes the world première recording of Alfred Schnittke s posthumous last work. Schnittke s ultimate symphony is paired with a work by Alexander Raskatov, the composer picked by Schnittke s widow to complete the 9th symp...  more »

     
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CD Details

All Artists: The Hilliard Ensemble
Title: "Schnittke: Symphony No. 9; Raskatov: Nunc Dimittis"
Members Wishing: 3
Total Copies: 0
Label: ECM Records
Original Release Date: 1/1/2009
Re-Release Date: 3/31/2009
Genres: Pop, Classical
Styles: Vocal Pop, Chamber Music, Historical Periods, Classical (c.1770-1830), Modern, 20th, & 21st Century, Symphonies
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPCs: 028947669944, 0028947669944

Synopsis

Product Description
Includes the world première recording of Alfred Schnittke s posthumous last work. Schnittke s ultimate symphony is paired with a work by Alexander Raskatov, the composer picked by Schnittke s widow to complete the 9th symphony. A must-have for anyone interested in Schnittke s music and an intriguing document of artistic independence beyond schools and trends. Performances of highest artistic standards bringing together long-standing figureheads of ECM s New Series in the form of Dennis Russell Davies and the Hilliard Ensemble. CD-package includes an illustrated 28-page booklet with an essay by Helmut Peters on the genesis of the manuscript and an interview with Alexander Raskatov in English and German
 

CD Reviews

Enigmatic musical tombstone
Philippe Vandenbroeck | HEVERLEE, BELGIUM | 04/11/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"A release of a recording of Schnittke's Ninth Symphony has been eagerly anticipated. The work preoccupied him until shortly before his death and the widow Irina Schnittke considers it his musical testament. As such it has, however, a somewhat dubious status. The CD booklet leaves no doubt that the composer was able to finish the work but a partial paralysis due to a stroke forced him to write with his left hand, resulting in a manuscript that was difficult to decipher (two quite astonishing facsimile pages from the manuscript have been reproduced in the CD booklet). Hence a "reconstruction" of the manuscript proved to be indispensable. However, there are other sources that claim Schnittke left the work simply unfinished. So rather than a reconstruction we are dealing here with a completion by another hand.

Whatever the exact nature of the task, it was commissioned by the Dresdner Philarmonie, the Bruckner Orchester Linz and the Juilliard School in New York. First Russian composer Nikolai Korndorf took on the challenge to prepare the work for performance but he soon contracted a brain tumor and passed away (another example of the "curse of the Ninth?"). Then Alexander Raskatov accepted the task and completed it in 2006. Raskatov also wrote a composition of his own ("Nunc Dimittis"), also featured on this disc, in response to his confrontation with the score of Schnittke's Ninth. Again, the status of this work and its relationship with the Ninth is, frankly, ambiguous. At one point the text in the booklet mentions that Raskatov "added" his own work, suggesting that there is a formal connection between his 16-minute vocal composition and Schnittke's valedictory symphony. But elsewhere in the booklet Raskatov denies quite clearly that "Nunc Dimittis" was intended as some sort of finale for the symphony, pointing out that there is no thematic connection between the two works. Once more, googling around doesn't resolve the issue. One wonders why this ambiguity surrounding Schnittke's last symphony is allowed to continue to lead a quite unnecessary existence.

Anyway, after listening to the music it is quite clear that Raskatov's "Nunc Dimittis" and the Ninth project very different sound worlds. Both are fine works in themselves but should not be welded to one another. The Raskatov piece struck me as a very worthwhile composition, structurally cogent and imaginatively scored for an unusual ensemble including a mezzo soprano, a male vocal quartet, electric guitar (?) and an exotic percussion battery. The 16-minute work is couched in a distinctly Slavic, postmodern and quite accessible idiom reminding me of Gubaidulina, Silvestrov, Tavener and even Rautavaara. I wouldn't consider it particularly Schnittkean although there are some echoes, maybe, of the sound world inhabited by the latter's Second Symphony ("Sankt Florian"). "Nunc Dimittis" ("In Memoriam Alfred Schnittke") falls into two parts. After a short incantatory introduction there follows a quite sombre but beautiful dirge dominated by the mezzo's declamation of a Brodsky poem in Ligeti-like Sprechgesang. The latter half is a sober traditional Orthodox hymn intoned by the Hilliard Ensemble and with the countertenor and mezzo voices soaring above a ravishing orchestral fabric embroidered with birdsong-like figurations (reminding me strongly of Rautavaara's "Cantus Arcticus"). All in all this piece is certainly more than a mere filler. It is a sophisticated, immediately persuasive work that nevertheless warrants repeated listening.

Schnittke's Ninth is a rather different kettle of fish. It certainly lacks the opulence of the Raskatov piece. The anger and agony, so forcefully present in many of his earlier work, is gone and has been sublimated in an objectified, eerily dispassionate musical language. There is something of the terseness of Shostakovich's last works in the Ninth, but I find it lacks the former's warmth. Schnittke's last symphony hails from an altogether colder universe.

It starts out quite beautifully from a rising, questioning chord and the sense of mystery and probing that comes with it pervades the whole work. The music sounds understated, hesitant and meandering. It seems to be built up from short cells or paragraphs, meditating on homophonous thematic material, concatenated over long stretches without an obvious perspective (to me) on a deeper symphonic logic.

There are three movements, respectively labeled Andante, Moderato and Presto, but the differences in tempo are slighter than the markings suggest. In fact, as the work unfolds one has the impression of a rhythmically steady, progressive quickening of the pulse rather than of a set of conspicuously contrasting movements. Also the texture, dominated by almost ever-present strings with scattered, piercing interruptions of the brass, varies little over the whole work, reinforcing an impression of dreamlike uniformity. I really find it difficult to support the CD booklet commentator's claim to "the great wealth of contrast and conspicuous vitality" in this score. Schnittke's Ninth Symphony is not a beguiling work. It does sound somewhat otherworldly but in a very oblique, understated way. Definitely an enigmatic work that requires the right mood to settle down with it.

The recording has been wel taken care of, as is customary, by the ECM team. They feature the same forces that delivered the Ninths's 2007 world premiere. With around 55 minutes worth of music it is a fairly short disc, however. ECM might have added Schnittke's rarely recorded "In Memoriam" - the orchestral version of his death haunted Piano Quintet - to complement this tantalising dyptich."
The Schnittke is beautiful but frustrating, while Raskatov's
Christopher Culver | 04/29/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Alfred Schnittke's Symphony No. 9 is an incomplete final testament, with the ailing composer writing three movements with his non-dominant left hand in 1997-98 before abandoning it. Gennady Rozhdestvensky hastily prepared a performable version that same year for a Moscow concert, but Schnittke suppressed it after hearing the radio broadcast. It then took nearly a decade before the composer's estate had Alexander Raskatov decipher the score and produce a completion. This authorized version was premiered on 16 June 2007 by the Dresden Philharmonic conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, and these same musicians appear on this ECM recording. The disc is filled out by one of Raskatov's own compositions, "Nunc dimmitis" which is intended as a sort of coda to Schnittke's symphony.

Schnittke's Ninth generally follows the previous three symphonies in that it lacks the polystylic extravagance that marked his earlier work. However, it's by no means as bleak, and what impresses me about the symphony is its sense of variety and momentum, something lacking from the Sixth through the Eighth, which were often compared to musical representations of what being a stroke victim feels like. The three movements of the Ninth are progressively faster, the woodwinds are more prominent than is usual for Schnittke and at times sound even carefree. There's also a palpable sense of drama here, where instead of just pure misery winds and strings develop towards something beautiful only to be confronted by brass and drums.

But it's a frustrating piece. In spite of its abundant richness, the ultimate impression of the symphony as heard here is a meandering, uncertain work. Yes, the chords at the end of the third movement finish something, but do they finish the piece as a whole? Furthermore, that we are dealing with a completion by another composer makes it difficult to determine whether fresh elements are Schnittke's own stylistic growth, or Raskatov's mark on the symphony. I have not yet heard the symphony's other recording at present, by the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Owain Arwel Hughes on a BIS disc.

Raskatov's "Nunc dimittis" for mezzo-soprano, men's voices and orchestra (2007) is a setting of two poems, one by Joseph Brodsky and the other by St Siluan, the hesychast of Mt. Athos. The soprano is in the spotlight, her vocal technique becoming more and more extended to yelps halfway through. The male voices sing in unison, providing only a backdrop for the soprano's expression. Instruments are played throughout, but I generally remember the orchestra serving to punctuate each severe, block-like passage by xylophone rolls and brass chords. While I'm not sure if I'll go on to explore Raskatov's wider output, this piece here is very attractive, reminiscent of a number of different composers (Messiaen, Berio, Boulez, Dalbavie and more) integrated into a cohesive style without feeling of quotation or pastiche."
Alfred Schnittke's testament
villegem | canada | 04/18/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"De front soyons clairs: les 4 etoiles se rapportent a l'interpretation academique de Dennis Russell Davies qui dirige la Philharmonie de Dresden. Academique car offrant une sorte de panorama que je qualifierai d'objectif de la partition de la neuvieme symphonie de Schnittke -en fait sa dixieme si l'on compte la symphonie "0" recemment enregistree sur BIS grace aux efforts d'Alexander Ivashkin-. Un peu pour dire ecoutez comment cela sonne mais ne me demandez pas ce que cela signifie...

Le travail de Raskatov fut long et fastidieux mais a la difference de la dixieme de Mahler recomposee, il est clair que l'ont sent la patte de Schnittke a 99% et c'est un choix judicieux qu'Irina Schnittke, la veuve du compositeur fit. On sait que lorsque Alfred Schnittke presque mourant ecouta un enregistrement de Rozhdestvensky dirigeant la premiere de sa neuvieme symphonie, le compositeur s'opposa a ce qu'il entendit fut consideree comme la version definitive de son oeuvre. Donc la n'est pas l'issue.

En fait la musique est remarquablement complexe et les textures beaucoup moins ascetiques que pour sa sixieme par exemple. Il est clair qu'il s'agit d'une oeuvre vaste et a la fois tellement personnelle, intime et universelle. Les forces en question sont imposantes et les orchestrations subtiles. Des lors on peut dire que Russell Davies a fait son travail honnetement. Mais cela est un peu court pour cet auditeur et voila la raison des 4 etoiles alors que la musique est largement digne des 5 etoiles et le pouce...

La lecture du livret nous montre que quelquepart Russell Davies -et Raskatov peut-etre trop immerge dans le detail- n'a pas su lire plus loin dans les paroles d'Irina et offrir une vision claire de la structure de l'oeuvre: "il a ecrit cette symphonie pour son depart" et "il voulait exprimer un accelerando du temps".

Raskatov suggere le tempo d'Andante au long premier mouvement alors que Schnittke n'avait pas precise de tempo. Le resultat est que Russell Davies au lieu de proposer un paysage presque statique mais offrant une pulsation interne -un peu comme Ponomareva le fait dans le premier Lento de la sonate pour piano No. 1-, il s'empresse et passe a cote de moments sublimes. C'est un peu Solti compare a Haitink dans l'adagio de la sixieme de Mahler... Oui ca lui prend 19 minutes et cela peut sembler long mais il en aurait fallu 25! C'est un Poliansky qui aurait su offrir un vaste univers a ce mouvement et reveler qu'il est une symphonie a lui seul.

Des lors le mouvement lent est trop rapide... Alors le Moderato qui lui semble etre sur le bon tempo n'apparait plus comme un changement mais comme la continuite et c'est dommage. C'est le plus reussi par Russell Davies et l'on sent un Schnittke tres proche de cette citation rapportee dans le livre de conversations avec Ivashkin: "...After illness my self-awareness in the moment has grown tremendously. I often find that now - as opposed to before - I see through a person right away very clearly and at once. And I've become awfully bored. And in general I am very bored. I have the feeling that my head was taken out of this world while I was left here. I do things that I already know and do them because I am stuck here! But the head is away! I was returned back to consciousness and now I have to do everything with the feeling that I have already left... But I am still here."
Et c'est de cela dont il s'agit dans le moderato et le finale.

Mais la encore, Russell Davies nous fait faux bond. Le presto n'est pas presto du tout et l'accelerando perd de sa force. L'energie de l'orchestre en patit. Quel dommage! On imagine ce que Eri Klas le chef estonien qui a dirige la premiere de Peer Gynt aurait cree avec cette musique car Schnittke voit la mise en scene, la pompe de sa propre mort, et puis son dernier souffle semble dire "est-ce tout ce qu'il ont compris?"

Schnittke's Ninth is a major and vast work. All those involved should be heartfully thanked. They are very close to pass through the looking glass, but it is not the definitive version of this work. Let's hope the likes of Poliansky or Klas will record and play it in concert halls the world over: it is so frustrating to that maestros who have known Schnittke are only invited to conduct brillantly more classical programs but that their intimate knowledge, precious link with the composers of our time would be left untapped by unimaginative music directors!

La neuvieme de Schnittke est une oeuvre majeure et vaste. Bien sur tous les acteurs impliques dans cet enregistrement doivent etre remercies. Ils sont parfois proches de passer de l'autre cote du miroir. Mais il est clair qu'il ne s'agit pas la de la version definitive de cette symphonie. J'espere que Poliansky ou Klas enregistreront cette oeuvre bientot et que cette symphonie sera jouee dans les salles de concert du monde: il est tellement frustrant que ceux comme Klas qui ont connus Schnittke ne soient invites a l'etranger que pour diriger -certes magnifiquement- un repertoire plus ancien alors qu'ils sont les traits d'union avec les compositeurs de notre temps. Leur experience est capitale et malheureusement negligee par des directeurs musicaux frileux!

This record deserves to be in every collection for its archival value. Yet we'll need a Poliansky or Klas to lead us through the looking glass and reveal the secrets of Alfred schnittke's testament.

Ce disque merite d'etre dans les collections de tout melomane pour sa valeur d'archive musicale. Mais il faut qu'un Poliansky ou un Klas nous fassent passer imperativement a travers le miroir et revelent le testament d'Alfred Schnittke.
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Post Scriptum: The piece Raskatov wrote in homage to schnittke is of honest quality but in no way can be considered an epilogue to the symphony. The idea proposed by the interviewer and dismissed by Raskatov, is quite preposterous. Let's thank Raskatov for his great work on the shoulders of a giant but let's not confuse the genres...

La piece de Raskatov ecrite en hommage a Schnittke est de facture honnete mais en aucun cas peut etre consideree comme un epilogue a la symphonie. L'idee meme avancee par l'interviewer dans le livret et d'ailleurs refutee par Raskatov, est presque de mauvais gout tant la difference est sensible: remercions Raskatov pour son travail sur les epaules d'un geant mais ne confondons pas...

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Post Scriptum 2: for those who cannot wait until Poliansky or Klas record another version of the Ninth, there is a way to improve this recording. If you own Wavelab or a similar professional software -respect the pitch while changing the timeframes- the magic can be reached by expanding the first movement by 20% making it 24 minutes long, keeping the second movement as is and contracting the last movement by 19% to a proper Presto. Then Irina Schnittke words "He wrote this symphony for his departure" et "he wanted to express an accelerando of time" are truly respected."