Richard Strauss really missed the point (fully related
in the excellent notes) when he decided that Schoenberg had gone too
far this time, ripe, he thought, for the attentions of an analyst. When
Schoenberg decided to stop trying to be Richard Strauss and start being
himself he made a creative breakthrough.
For many years it has been fashionable to consider
Arnold Schoenberg as a great theorist, a great teacher, a great pioneer
of music, but not necessarily a great composer. This disc forced a reconsideration
on your reviewer for it presents both sides of the divide, Schoenberg
pre-Strauss and post-Strauss, and the shock of discovery felt with the
latter is considerable. Pelleas und Melisande is a good work,
full of passion and angst but ultimately lacking the ingredients that
Richard Strauss always brought to his scores, excitement and thumping
good tunes. Arnold Schoenberg could write tunes, in Verklärte
Nacht for example, but nothing like the great lyric outbursts of
Salomeís Dance, or the 10th Variation of Don Quixote.
The reason now seems obvious. Schoenberg was not Strauss. In the Five
Pieces and the Accompaniment Music for a Film Scene he found
his own way. This music is dramatic, violent and atmospheric, and, yes,
still full of angst, as befits a member of Freudís Viennese society.
It is ironic that Strauss should have started to move away from this
sort of thing, away from Elektra especially, just as Schoenberg
made his way towards modern expressionism. But the two diverging pathways
did give us the genius of, on the one hand, the Chamber Symphonies,
and on the other hand the Four Last Songs and the Oboe Concerto.
In the long run both routes were fruitful. One wonders if Schoenberg
would have wanted the approval of the composer of Der Rosenkavalier
anyway. Would he perhaps have decided that such approval indicated that
he was not radical enough? We could have had the Schoenberg of the blind
alley, one who wrote like, say, Varèse, and led nowhere, rather
than the pioneer of the path which gave us Berg and Webern as well as
the extraordinary serial compositions of Schoenberg himself.
The Sydney Orchestra play brilliantly. Edo de Waart
conducts to the manner born. The ABC engineers serve up a very fine
recording, detailed but coherent sound that gives you this dynamic music
with no holds barred. A magnificent disc, even for the great almost-achievement
of Pelleas. A final confession. Having been struck by several
Antipodean issues in recent weeks I suppose I just have to stop being
surprised at how good the orchestras are. The fact that there arenít
all that many Antipodeans has had as little effect on the quality of
their musicians as has the shortage of Finns on their extraordinary
musical fecundity. The Sydney Orchestra is as good as any I have heard,
the playing by various wind and string soloists here being utterly superb.
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