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Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
The Music of Arnold Schoenberg, Volume 2.

Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra in B flata (1933) [20’36]; Suite for Piano, Op. 25b (1921/3) [13’17]. Gurrelieder (1900/1923 chamber version) - Lied der Waldtaubec [12’56]. The Book of the Hanging Gardens, Op. 15d (1908) [26’38].
Spoken interview with Arnold Schoenberg rec. composer’s home, July 1949 [6’31].
aFred Sherry String Quartet (Jennifer Frautschi, Jesse Mills, violins; Richard O’Neill, viola; Fred Sherry, cello); bdChristopher Oldfather (piano); cdJennifer Lane (mezzo); cTwentieth Century Classics Ensemble (New York)/Robert Craft.
rec. American Academy of Arts and Letters, aOct 2002, bdSept 2001, cMay 2000. DDD
NAXOS 8.557520 [79’59]

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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 Gavotte-Musette-Gavotte second 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 ) 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 of meaning.

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?

Colin Clarke


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