The late Alfred Schnittke has, after his death, been accused of writing too much music of variable quality. This debate is still raging although suffice to say that the Eighth Symphony truly is one of his greatest works and indeed, one of the great symphonic works of the latter twentieth century. The charge of oppressive asceticism laid against the Sixth and Seventh symphonies can hardly be held up to this expansive and frankly emotional work. It is as if Schnittke relaxed the skeletal sounds of his previous essays in the genre and, while not quite returning to the dazzling orchestral pyrotechnics of the Fifth Symphony (Concerto Grosso no. 4), creating a work of great sincerity and beauty. The first movement is an obsessive repetition of a wide-ranging (in pitch, not rhythm) melody, seemingly effortlessly varied to touch on all sections of the orchestra.
Fischer’s performance of the Sixth is quite similar to Abbado’s recent live recording for DG. Textures are generally light and transparent, with a swift opening march that, by the same token, never sounds unduly rushed or trivialized. The andante comes second, not the best option in my view, but Fischer has the intelligence to treat it as a true andante, and not as an adagio (which is a more legitimate possibility when it’s placed third). However, in contrast to Abbado’s boring Berliners, Fischer’s orchestra plays better, and he’s much better recorded. Just listen to the characterful brass in the coda of the first movement, with a particularly fine first trumpet, or the splendid woodwinds in the trios of the scherzo. The emphasis on fleetness never compromises expressivity, as happens in Berlin.