SCHNITTKE: Symphony No. 9; ALEXANDER RASKATOV: Nunc dimittis – Elena Vassilieva, soprano/ The Hilliard Ensemble/ Dresden Philharmonic/ Dennis Russell Davies, conductor – ECM 2025, 53:04 ****:
Alfred Schnittke’s last symphony, despite the comparison to late Shostakovich in the notes, seems to me to ring far truer in a Mahlerian manner. I can’t say exactly why this is so; the scoring is far sparser than anything Maher wrote, despite the presence of triple woodwinds, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, strings, and three percussionists. It is true that the composer’s scoring became more ascetic as he went along in his symphonic journey. But there are very few times—except spots in the last movement—that I felt the full impact of a large symphony orchestra. But as Mahler was so adept at writing chamber music into his symphonies, so is Schnittke as well.
His wife Irina was most concerned that someone try and complete the very difficult and turgidly-written score. After a first choice died before the work could be finished, she chose Alexander Raskatov, a man who had been connected with the family for a number of years. Even the large magnifying glass he used to decipher the handwritten score proved a challenge. And the composer left only three movements, with no one knowing for sure whether a fourth was to come or not. The work certainly sounds complete; in fact Raskatov goes to some pains in an interview in the notes to assure the public that his choral work with orchestra that follows the symphony is in no way intended as a completion to Schnittke’s opus. The symphony begins slowly and gradually increases in strength and speed at the conclusion. It is not of the cryptic and rather neoclassical “collage” type that we often associate with this composer. Instead it is a carefully worked out piece of pessimistic outlook and well-crafted lines. Schnittke, always conscious of the mystical number “9” and its musical associations, has done himself credit in this work, and we owe a debt of gratitude to all concerned here for this excellent performance.
Raskatov uses two texts, a poem by Joseph Brodsky (one of Schnittke’s favorites in his last years) and something by someone called “Starets” Siluan. “Starets” in Russian means “elder”, and the person in question is St. Siluan of Mount Athos, Greece, a Russian who took refuge on the holy Mountain in the early nineteenth century, recently canonized by the Orthodox Church. The composer tends to equate the tone of both works as the same, but I disagree; whereas Brodsky comes across as quite the downer, Siluon was anything but. No matter—this is a tribute work to Schnittke, and I am sure he would have enjoyed it, not quite his style, but certainly an echo of something he would have recognized. Recommended.
— Steven Ritter