A simply gripping selection
of Schoenberg’s music.
The Concerto for
String Quartet and Orchestra is
freely composed after Handel’s Concerto
grosso, Op. 6 No. 7. In fact, Schoenberg’s
orchestration is masterly, lines glittering
by percussion doublings and a sense
of ebullience coming through the whole
experience. It is the ideal way to open
this disc, the concerto/ripieno alternations
of the allegro for the first movement
proving to be a positive joy. There
is a distinctly Stravinskian feel to
some of the allegro and this is to resurface,
with even greater strength, in the third
movement (Allegretto grazioso).
The Largo is gorgeous, almost
indulgent, but it is the last movement’s
open-air gaiety that is most appealing.
Everyone, it appears, is having fun.
Certainly composer and performers are.
And this particular listener was, too!
Quite a leap to the
more austere Piano Suite. The
twelve-note basis of this work lends
it what some listeners may perceive
as a ‘difficult’ surface; one can definitely
see the debt Boulez owed in his piano
sonatas to Schoenberg. Christopher Oldfather
is a phenomenally gifted interpreter,
whose fingers reveal great deftness
of touch, particularly in the playful
movement. If the third movement is a
bit harsh at times, maybe it was deliberate,
to contrast with the kittenish Menuett.
A superb performance.
A close relation to
the First Chamber Symphony, this reduced-forces
Lied der Waldtaube (text at www.naxos.com/libretti/waldtaube
) uses the same instrumentation as that
work with added piano and harmonium.
The scoring takes the Lied very
close in spirit to the Chamber Symphony,
right from the off, as well as giving
the piece a rather objective feel. Jennifer
Lane’s voice is very appealing. It is
free, not heavy, so can, indeed, fly
like a dove. The final heavy gestures
of the piece carry just the right amount
The Book of the
Hanging Gardens seems to this writer
the very heart of Schoenberg. Here the
composer is following his compositional
destiny, with immensely memorable results.
Even in chamber arrangement, there is
a ‘hot-house’ element to the Gurrelieder
excerpt. In one sense there is a cooling
off, replacing the late-Romantic with
unapologetic exploratory writing in
the song set. Schoenberg wrote that,
‘I have for the first time succeeded
in approaching an ideal of expression’.
His later comments speak of an awareness
of the resistance that this music necessarily
brought in its wake. Jennifer Lane is
evidently an expert in Sprechgesang.
The music makes great demands on both
performers, as much of the time the
textures are spare and concentration
must be at its very maximum; this is
especially so on disc. It is all the
more impressive that Lane and Oldfather
triumph. Notable is the dark desolation
of the last song: the longest, at 4’45.
Finally there is an
interview with the composer by the late
Professor Halsey Stevens. Fascinatingly,
it dwells on Schoenberg’s painterly
activities. So why does Naxos’s disc
feature a painting by another artist
on the cover (Destination
by Ulrich Osterloh), I wonder?