Alfred Schnittke: Symphony No. 9 / Alexander Raskatov: Nunc dimittis

Dresdner Philharmonie, Dennis Russell Davies

Composed shortly before his death in 1998, Schnittke’s ultimate symphony – actually his very last work – is a “Ninth” in a most unusual sense: Put down with a shaky left hand by an artist who had survived four strokes and was laterally debilitated, it is an impressive triumph of spiritual energy over physical constraints. The composer’s widow Irina treated the barely-legible manuscript as a testament and was long doubtful whom to entrust with the difficult task of deciphering and reconstructing the highly expressive three movements for large orchestra (some 38 minutes of music). She finally settled on Moscow-born Alexander Raskatov, who not only provided a thorough score but, convinced that Schnittke had intended to write a fourth movement, also developed the idea to add an independent epilogue, the “Nunc Dimitis” (“Lord, let thy servant now depart into thy promis’d rest”) for mezzo soprano, vocal quartett and orchestra. It is based on the famous text by orthodox monk Starets Siluan and on verses by Joseph Brodsky, Schnittke’s favourite poet. Both pieces were given their first performances in the Dresden Frauenkirche in summer 2007 by the musicians of this world première recording which feautures long-standing ECM protagonists the Hilliard Ensemble and conductor Dennis Russell Davies.

Featured Artists Recorded

January 2008, Lukaskirche, Dresden

Original Release Date


  • Symphony No. 9
    (Alfred Schnittke)
  • 1[Andante]19:56
  • 2Moderato08:24
  • 3Presto08:31
  • 4Nunc dimittis - In memoriam Alfred Schnittke (2007)
    (Joseph Brodsky, Starets Siluan, Alexander Raskatov)
Audio, Klassik-CD des Monats
Scherzo, Excepcional
This ECM release helps fill out the picture of the composer’s last years by including his Ninth Symphony. … Schnittke’s previous three symphonies had largely abandoned his earlier polystylistic complexity, achieving a new level of simplicity or drabness according to conviction. The Ninth does not continue along this path of rarefication, opting for relatively full textures that, while not actively contrapuntal, are intensely polyphonic. … Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony is not the result of a fractured mind composing on default; rather it unfolds with an intent if oblique logic where detail is secondary to the overall musical process. What is certain is the quality of the Dresden orchestra’s playing and the precision that Dennis Russell Davies brings to his reading.
Richard Whitehouse, International Record Review
Was für eine Überraschung bietet da Dirigent Dennis Russel Davies mit der Dresdner Philharmonie! Ein zügiger Gesang ist das, grundiert von tanzenden Klängen, die wie ihr Komponist vom Leben schwer gezeichnet zu sein scheinen, aber mit staunenswerter Zuversicht und Neugier voraneilen, immer beschwingter, immer kühner, um zuletzt, nach einem abrupten Abbruch, in einer von Alfred Schnittke wohl religiös gemeinten, nun doch noch Weltenrätsel bündelnden Kürzestvision beschlossen zu werden.
Reinhard Brembeck, Süddeutsche Zeitung
Schnittkes Spätstil, das zeigt diese ungeheuer spannungsreiche, technisch perfekt ausgeleuchtete Aufnahme, verzichtet auf monumentale Effekte. Diese Neunte enthält keine letzten, grandiosen Statements, sondern kombiniert souverän und unspektakulär herbe Dissonanzen mit melodiöser Heiterkeit, Nüchternheit mit spielerischem Genuss. … Davies entfaltet das Werk, das in unaufgelösten Pianissimo-Klängen endet, in all seinem mysteriösen Zauber.
Otto Paul Burkhardt, Audio
Wäre Lems Solaris ein nächtiger, dunkler Planet, so könnte er klingen. Die Musik bewegt sich in tiefem Schatten. Aus der schwarzen, zähen Lava steigen Reminiszenzen, ein Cembalo klirrt, Bläser träumen halbe Choräle, manchmal pulsiert schweres Ostinato. Kein Trost ist darin, aber ungeheure Weite.
Volker Hagedorn, Die Zeit
Schnittkes letzte Komposition, hier mit großer Kompetenz und Hingabe interpretiert von der Dresdner Philharmonie unter Dennis Russell Davies, wirkt wie ein großes Rätsel, das zu lösen für den Hörer eine Herausforderung darstellt; doch es könnte sich lohnen, diese anzunehmen. Als eigenständigen Epilog zur Sinfonie komponierte Raskatov ein dunkelfarbiges, von Abschiedsstimmung durchzogenes Nunc dimittis …, das ihn als Komponisten ausweist, von dem man gerne mehr hören möchte.
Thomas Schulz, Applaus
This is the prerogative of late style: it has the power to render disenchantment and pleasure without resolving the contradiction between them. What holds them in tension, as equal forces straining in opposite directions, is the artist’s mature subjectivity, stripped of hubris and pomposity, unashamed either of its fallibility or of the modest assurance it has gained as a result of age and exile. Edward W. Said: On late Style

The world première recording of Alfred Schnittke’s posthumous Ninth symphony, released simultaneously with a new album of recent works by Arvo Pärt, makes for an indispensable addition to the wide spectrum of Post-Soviet composition on ECM New Series, which was launched 25 years ago with Pärt’s “Tabula rasa”. Schnittke’s last work before his death in 1998 is an impressive triumph of spiritual powers over physical constraints. Struggling with the debilitating effects of a series of strokes, Schnittke notated the three movements with a shaky left hand in short-score but was unable to finish the complete orchestration. The 40-minute work for standard symphony orchestra (with added percussion and harpsichord) doesn’t present any kind of final statement and seems to defy conventional interpretation. Relinquishing obvious contrasts, narrative aspects and semantic allusions the symphony is both contrapuntally elaborate and playfully serene, starkly dissonant and magically melodious. It will certainly offer interesting new impulses to debates on the mystery of “late style”. In a review for Germany’s “Neue Zeitschrift für Musik”, published shortly after the first performance in June 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche, Alexander Keune remarked: “With respect to instrumental colour and rhythm the textures are so sparse that … one might suppose that, instead of offering answers, the symphony rather raises questions in the open space.”

The composer’s widow Irina treated the barely-legible manuscript as a testament and was long doubtful whom to entrust with the difficult task of deciphering and reconstructing the highly expressive music. She finally settled on composer Alexander Raskatov who, speaking in his own words, strived to “restore the original text with maximum circumspection and fidelity to the original without adding anything of my own and without trying to ‘correct’ the composer”. Nevertheless, Raskatov developed the idea to add an independent epilogue, the “Nunc dimittis” (“Lord, let thy servant now depart into thy promis'd rest”) for mezzo-soprano, vocal quartet and orchestra. It is based on a text by orthodox monk Starets Siluan and on verses by Joseph Brodsky, Schnittke’s favourite poet. Alexander Raskatov’s reconstruction and completion was a joint commission of Dresdner Philharmonie, Bruckner Orchester Linz and the Juilliard School, New York.

Alexander Raskatov whom Alfred Schnittke once called “one of the most interesting composers of his generation” has received commissions for new works from Gidon Kremer, the Sabine Meyer Wind Ensemble, Netherlands Wind Ensemble, the Hilliard Ensemble and the Schoenberg Ensemble, among others. He received the composition prize of the Salzburg Easter Festival in 1998. Raskatov was born in Moscow in 1953 and finished his studies at Moscow Conservatory in 1978. In 1990 he joined the Russian Contemporary Music Association. His interests centre especially on vocal and instrumental chamber music and symphonic sonorities.

Dennis Russell Davies (born in 1944 in Toledo, Ohio) has appeared on 18 much-acclaimed ECM recordings featuring works by Mozart, Pärt, Kancheli and Strawinsky among others. Championing music by Henze, Cage, Glass, Pärt, Kancheli etc. he has commissioned, premiered and recorded numerous pieces by living composers along with the standard classical works. After several directorial posts at major orchestras and opera houses in America and Europe he became chief conductor of the Bruckner-Orchester Linz and the Linz opera in 2002. In March 2008 Davies was named the next music director of the Basel Symphony Orchestra, effective with the 2009-2010 season. A new record on ECM with works by Austrian composer Thomas Larcher is in preparation.

Dresdner Philharmonie, the concert orchestra of the Saxonian capital of Dresden, was founded in 1870 and has toured widely in Europe, Asia and both Americas. In the 1930s the orchestra held a particular reputation for its first complete cycles of Bruckner’s symphonies in their then unusual original versions under conductors Paul van Kempen and Carl Schuricht. From 2001 to 2003 Marek Janowsky was artistic director, followed by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos in 2004.

Mezzo-soprano Elena Vassilieva was born into a musical family in France and trained as a classical dancer and pianist before her vocal studies with Régine Crespin, Jacques Jansen and Christian Lardé at the Conservatoire Supérieur de Musique in Paris. Composers such as Edison Denisov, Sofia Gubaidulina, Vinko Globokar, Wolfgang Rihm and Hans Werner Henze have composed for her. Vassilieva was awarded with numerous prizes, including “Salzburger Mozartpreis”, “Maître du Chant Français” and a “Diapason d’Or”.

For more than 30 years the Hilliard Ensemble has been known as one of the most outstanding vocal groups. The collaboration between the English a cappella quartet and the Munich based label began in 1986 with a contribution to Arvo Pärt’s “Arbos” and subsequently led to unanimously praised artistic achievements and popular successes in the fields of old and new music alike (“Officium”, “Morimur” etc.). The ensemble’s most recent release was “Audivi vocem” a programme of English Renaissance music by Tallis, Tye and Sheppard.