Schnittke, Bach, Webern, Faust Cantata, Ricerar et al.,
A.Boreyko, Hamburg SO
edel / Berlin Classics 1776
Faust isn’t a hero in that version – he’s a warning example. That is part of the reason why Faust is a baritone (Andreas Schmidt) while the speaker is a tenor (Justine Lavender ) – like in Bach’s passions. Mephisto is split between countertenor (when in disguise and charming - Matthias Koch) and an alto (when revealed and malevolent - Marina Prudenskaya) to creepy, eerie effect. The night-scene of Faust’s death is a fin-de-siècle conjuring ghastly tango of doom and likely the most immediately appealing part of the 40-minute work. It is very appropriately framed by two Bach chorales. The encore, if you wish – as this was a live performance, although you’d never know from the total lack of audience noises - is Anton Webern’s Ricerar, his orchestration of Bach’s Ricerata a 6 voci from Die Kunst der Fuge. Webern and Schoenberg understood Bach like few other composers, and what Webern does to the austere fugue is a miracle on top of the wonder that is Bach. It’s a bit like what Kurusawa’s Throne of Blood is to Shakespeare’s Lear (only much closer to the original). Like a film that gains in translation, structures and strands become clearer and visible while the work does not suffer but gains in coherence. I played this devilishly difficult 10-minute delight (it’s a challenge to every woodwind section and the players of the Hamburger Symphoniker under Andrey Boreyko do particularly well) four times in a row on first hearing.