For its third in-house release, The Cleveland Orchestra follows this,, then this,, with a Russian double-bill while retaining the distinctive outsize and generously annotated packaging that can also be a little tricky for accessing and returning the CD (mine proved stubborn to remove!).

Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto for Piano and Strings (1979) opens quizzically from the soloist – dark, lonely, searching –, two minutes in the strings offer an ethereal backcloth and then agitation and intensity; a high level of dissonance and disorientation, too, before gnarled rapidity sets in, haunted by shadows. As ever with the late Schnittke the musical references are wide, including Bill Evans-type jazz piano and pizzicato bass, if only for a while, before disquiet and rage set the tone for this twenty-minute work, ending in some kind of acceptance, if unwillingly and ambiguously, and for which Yefim Bronfman is a committed and unflinching soloist.

In design, Prokofiev’s Second Symphony (1924-25, written in Paris, premiered there under Koussevitzky) mirrors Beethoven’s final Piano Sonata (Opus 111): a punchy, powerful first movement that sears into one’s consciousness (either thrilling, as it is for me, or repellent) followed by an extended set of Variations. Franz Welser-Möst and his virtuoso Clevelanders get to grips with this music’s complexities and challenges in no uncertain terms: the first movement (which kick-started Christopher Rouse’s Third Symphony, is uncompromisingly hurled at the listener (precise percussion detail) and the second is of vivid commentaries, a variety of strangeness, angularity, shrillness, and deep-earth pounding, post-Rite of Spring, also Paris. Great stuff!

Both recordings are technically excellent – the Schnittke from Severance Hall, Cleveland, October 2020 (during Lockdown); the Prokofiev captured in the January of that year in Miami’s Knight Concert Hall, applause excised. Thoroughly recommended, although with twenty-five minutes of spare disc capacity, it’s a pity that some more music couldn’t have been included. TCO0003 [SACD]