Monday, January 4, 2010

Schnittke: Film music (Part 2)

Schnittke: Music for the films My Past and Thoughts, The End of St. Petersburg, Agony, and Master and Margarita
Berlin Radio Symphony Choir and Orchestra/Frank Strobel
CPO 999796 | Stereo DDD

Back in November I posted what I promised was the first in a series of posts devoted to Alfred Schnittke's film music. It's been awhile, but here today is the sequel to that post and a promise that the forthcoming posts in this series will be on their way before the month is out.

Listening to Schnittke's film music is to be in the presence of a master who works with total security in the medium. His gifts as a composer were well near tailor made for cinema so it's no wonder to read that Schnittke had contemplated becoming a full time film composer altogether during the 1980's. In the realm of film, Schnittke's polystylism was adept at capturing the various inner moods of the on screen actions and sometimes runs as a sort of wordless commentary on it. So much music for film tends to be bland, mundane, and in the case of such "greats" like John Williams, not above the occasional plundering of other composers' works. Along with Herrmann, Steiner, Shostakovich, Prokofieff, Rota, Delerue, Takemitsu, and Korngold does Schnittke's work stand as among the greatest of composers for films and this side of the composer deserves to be heard on the stage as well as on record. Fortunately for us, Frank Strobel and his Berlin Radio Symphony have given us 5 volumes of Schnittke's film music (1 on CPO; 4 on Capriccio) and there seems to be more on the way.

Agony has been reviewed here before and is among the best of Schnittke's film music. The suite compiled here shares the same numbers with Emin Khachaturian's on Olympia, but the music is more elaborate here with passages not heard on Khachaturian's recording. Perhaps this is the work of Strobel who is credited here as the compiler of this suite? Either way, this is excellent with the Berlin orchestra sounding far richer and smoother than Khachaturian's scrappy USSR Cinematography Orchestra. Best of all here is the pithy Master and Margarita written for Soviet television in the late 1980's. A madcap foxtrot, sumptuous tango, and a drunken take on Ravel's Bolero make for quite an entertainment. Ravishingly beautiful too is Margarita's theme.

Audio quality is excellent all around. Very rich and powerful. All I can say to Frank Strobel is--more please!