Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Violin Concerto (1936)
Piano Concerto (1942)
ALBAN BERG (1885-1935)
Violin Concerto (1935)
Zvi Zeitlin (violin)
Henryk Szeryng (violin - Berg)
Alfred Brendel (piano)
Bavarian Radio SO/Rafael Kubelik
rec 1971/72
ELOQUENCE 469 606 2 [77.29]

Commentary on the Eloquence series

This is an exceedingly generous disc and one assembled with an eye to an apt sequence. I was not familiar with Szeryng's Berg but the two Schoenberg items are well known to anyone who collected yellow label LPs during the 1970s.

I had not heard the Berg for many years. Renewing acquaintance I was struck by the works it had influenced, pre-echoing their way through its pages. The opening predicts Samuel Barber's Knoxville with which the concerto shares a similar spirit. The violin concertos by Barber, Frankel and, above all, William Schuman, are also influenced by the Berg.

The dodecaphonic theme continues but with greater force and less emotional dilution with the two concertos from Schoenberg's U.S. years. The piano concerto is hyperactive, mystical, jagged and sour, even in repose. The spirit of line is not lost and a dank romanticism lours. I have not compared this with the Peter Serkin/Boulez coupling on Erato (also with the Schoenberg violin concerto but without the Berg) but the sound is staggeringly good, denied only a silky texture when very loud. The pizzicato episodes at the start of the Molto allegro make an astonishing approach towards the illusion of reality.

The violin concerto predates the piano concerto by six years. While the first movement's poco allegro is angular there is relief in the intermittently gentler contours of the andante grazioso with its tattered shreds of lullaby, cantique and passacaglia.

Kubelik and the Bavarians are a constant throughout these three works. They are unfailingly alert and vital.

A word or several about the design of the Eloquence marque: minimalistically tasteful, monochrome but with a subtle colour splash for the DG shield and the central abstract design. The approach is consistent across the Eloquence brand. Spine colour coding is also used to identify the musical genre.

The two Schoenberg works are tougher going than the Berg though far from impossible.

Not a disc for romantics. Those sated with too much Rachmaninov, Bax or Arnold will find, however, that it clears the head. At the very least they will return to their core repertoire with a sense of renewal.

Congratulations to Universal for taking the decision to include this far from easy choice in their series. I must be more careful in condemning the majors for lack of adventure.

Rob Barnett

Reviews from previous months

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