Schnittke: Concerto grosso No. 1; Symphony No. 9

Owain Arwel Hughes

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Schnittke: Concerto grosso No. 1; Symphony No. 9 Review

by James Leonard

One of the glories of the early BIS catalog was its extensive series of recordings of the works of the great Russian composer Alfred Schnittke, some of which were world-premiere recordings, and many of which remain among the best performances yet recorded. This 2009 disc includes Schnittke's Ninth Symphony, reconstructed by Alexandr Raskatov after the composer's death, and the world-premiere recording of his Concerto Grosso No. 1 in a version for flute and oboe, rather than the more familiar version for two violins. Both works are played virtuosically and thoroughly idiomatically by Owain Arwel Hughes and the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, and both capture that compulsive but elusive Schnittke feeling: melancholy but witty, intellectual but mercurial, deeply felt but tinged with irony, and individualistic but suffused with quotes from other styles and other composers. This version of the Concerto Grosso is very different from the work in its two-violin form, but the soloists here are brilliant, and Hughes leads the South African orchestra in a lively and insightful reading that compares favorably with recordings of the original version. This account of the Ninth Symphony follows the world-premiere recording by Dennis Russell Davies and the Dresdner Philharmonia, and while Hughes' reading is admirable for its energy and integrity, Davies' performance seems to get further into the music and reveals more of its greatness. Sonically, both recordings are excellent, with BIS having slightly cleaner and marginally more atmospheric sound.

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