Schnittke: Symphony No. 3 - Jurowski

Schnittke: Symphony No. 3 - Jurowski

PentaTone Classics  PTC 5186 485

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Schnittke: Symphony No. 3

Heike Gneiting, piano
Tobias Berndt, organ
Rainer Wolters, concert master
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Vladimir Jurowski

One hundred and eleven musicians celebrating a large-scale symphony. That sounds like Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, or Arnold Schoenberg. In fact, the composer of this symphony, Alfred Schnittke, had precisely these composers (and many others) in mind back in 1981. Whereas he initially mirrored certain styles from figures as Mahler, Mozart, Bach, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, he was soon also borrowing concepts from “trivial music”, folklore, jazz, tango, as well as many other styles. He himself described his compositional technique as “polystylistic”, which was more than just a technique, but an aesthetic programme: a serious effort to break through the vicious circle of the self satisfied and self sufficient avant garde music.

Alfred Schnittke’s Symphony No. 3 testifies all this searching, this “in-betweenness”. The four movement work — an opening Moderato, followed by an Allegro, a long movement marked Allego pesante, with the briefer finale marked Adagio — was commissioned for the ceremonial opening of the new Gewandhaus in Leipzig. He used the prestigious commission from Leipzig as a moment to confront not only the multi layered historical past, but also the weakened current state of affairs while remaining highly respectful of the achievements of both the past and the present.

Released on SACD by PENTATONE, this symphony is recorded with Vladimir Jurowski conducting the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin. Jurowski states, “He (Schnittke) was not alone in his capacity of ‘seismograph of the cultural nightmares of his/our present’”. The conductor’s insightful, unique reading and his collaboration with an orchestra who are on top form undeniably produced nothing less than a magnificent tribute to Schnittke’s great and intricate score.

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Comments (7)

Comment by Waveform - October 30, 2017 (1 of 7)

Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) has not been well served on SACD field - beyond this album there's no other recordings of his symphonies, for instance, which is a great pity. A composer like Schnittke, whose music includes wide contrasts between quiet and loud, fairly requires the advantages offered by SACD such as vast dynamic range, three-dimensional surround sound and crystal clear high-resolution audio. Frankly speaking this PENTATONE SACD offers terrific listening experience, even in stereo! Every detail from Schnittke's complex score is there, audible clear, thanks to the improvements of Direct Stream Digital*. Electric guitar, full organ, harpsichord... One can only hope that this album was a beginning of the new multi-year project to record all the symphonies of Schnittke to SACD for the first time. I can't imagine more suitable label for this demanding task than PENTATONE as their surround sound recordings have never disappointed me.

More Schnittke, please!

*) During the actual recording process the audio engineers used high-resolution PCM masters - the final results were transferred to DSD for SACD production

Comment by William Hecht - October 30, 2017 (2 of 7)


I'm not familiar with this piece, but my past reactions to Schnittke's "pastiche" style of composition have not been favorable. Beyond dynamic extremes can you provide any commentary on the music? Thanks.


Comment by Waveform - October 30, 2017 (3 of 7)

Hi Bill,

Yes, of course. To me, Schnittke's music is something more than just an embarrassing mix of various styles, so-called soup of Mozart, Bach and Shostakovich. No, above these things there is more intimate and personal message, some kind of hidden cypher that can be found on every work of the composer if you just listen to them carefully.

For instance, the second movement. Firstly, a child-like, innocent, light (Mozart) theme. This same lightness forms the beginning of Kein Sommernachtstraum (Not a Midsummer Night's Dream), the only piece by Schnittke I have heard at the live concert. The chaotic parts of the movement seems to be just an illogical ideas but actually - this is my opinion - they describes the rude life in the Soviet Union and gradually worsening health of the composer. In contrast to this many musical quotations to the works of the other composers (including Bach, Mozart and Haydn) are like depressing attempts to find a way out.

In the third movement the word "das Böse" ("the Evil") appears as an eight-note tone row [by brass] (D, A, E flat, A flat, B flat, E, E flat, E), with the B-A-C-H monogram dominating the final movement (source: Wikipedia Article). It's a terrific moment and will make a great impression.

Performance is as committed as any could ever wish for; Jurowski clearly loves this music. He offers a vivid but also, when required, gloomy view to the score. As I said above - more Schnittke, please!

Comment by William Hecht - October 30, 2017 (4 of 7)

Thank you, much appreciated.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - November 1, 2017 (5 of 7)

Luketso is right about Schnittke’s symphonies on SACD. But to refresh one’s mind, some time ago (more years than I want to know!) Robert von Bahr (BIS) made it a personal ambition to record everything Schnittke has ever written. Indeed, mostly on RBCD. I’ve a number of these excellent productions. As for symphonies (and other stuff), look here:

Comment by Waveform - November 1, 2017 (6 of 7)

Adrian, I am of course aware of this BIS edition and actually listened to the few albums. But as you said and as we all are able to see all the albums in this series are RBCDs only. This means, nowadays after I discovered the improvements of Super Audio CD, these products are useless to pick up because I don't listen to RBCDs anymore although most of the discs that I collected earlier were regular CDs only.

I don't have faith enough to hope that they will start to record these works again using benefit of high-resolution audio and Surround Sound - it will be too expensive and risky. But here's the reply of PENTATONE to my query (on 23 January, 2017) which gives us a reason to expect for more Schnittke albums in the years to come:

"Thank you for your compliments! It is an amazing recording. At this moment Schnittke is not on our planning, unfortunately. We hope that this will be the case in the future.
Please keep following us on our website and newsletter".

(Personally I prefer PENTATONE's PCM recordings over BIS because as far as I know they use sample rate that is at least 24/96, usually 24/192 or even DXD (24/352.8))

Comment by Bruce Zeisel - November 14, 2017 (7 of 7)

Luketsu said:

"Schnittke's music is something more than just an embarrassing mix of various styles, so-called soup of Mozart, Bach and Shostakovich. No, above these things there is more intimate and personal message,"

Yes, I agree and I would like to cite the violin concerto #4 as exemplary of Schnittke at his best, eschewiing the above mentioned "soup", and from its outset, telling a gripping profound story. I had the privelege of talking with Arabella Steinbacher back in the spring of 2009. I had wanted to tell her about Schnikke's 4th violin concerto. Well, she already knew everything I had to say and much more. She had hoped to play it for her Chicago Symphony debut but they wanted the Sibelius instead. I expressed the hope she would record it someday. It would pair well with Shostakovich #1. The 4th violin concerto would also pair very VERY nicely with this: Frank Martin: Polyptyque + J. S. Bach: Choräle zum Kreuzweg

I again spoke with her in 2016 at Château-d'Œx and suggested the above as a pairing to the Schnittke and she really lit up at the suggestion.
Maybe the people here could tell PentaTone to record that violin concerto #4 with Steinbacher and preferrably with The Bach/Martin. The Polyptque + Chorale zum Kreuzweg, would be a great foil to the emotionally draining experience of the very profoundly moving violin concerto.