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Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874 – 1951)
Verklärte Nacht Op.4 (1899) [28:39]
Sonnet 217 by Petrarch (1922/3) [3:57]
Anton WEBERN (1883 – 1945)

Two Pieces (1899)a [4:19]
Cello-Sonate (1914)a [1:32]
Three Little Pieces Op.11 (1914)a [2:34]
Sonata Movement (1906)b [4:46]
Movement (1906)b [6:56]
Variations for Piano Op.27 (1936)b [6:56]
Piano Piece (1925, op.posth.)b [1:12]
Children’s Piece (1924)b [1:18]
Four Pieces Op.7 (1910)c [5:09]
Ulf Wallin (violin)c; Torleif Thedéen (cello)a; Roland Pöntinen (piano)c
rec. Nybrokajen 11, Stockholm, March 2001 (Verklärte Nacht, Sonata Movement, Movement), December 2001 (Piano Variations) and August 2004
BIS CD-1467 [69:22]

Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht Op.4 is probably one of his best known pieces, either in its original version for string sextet or in the transcription for string orchestra. However, the present transcription for piano trio, made by Eduard Steuermann in 1932 is a rarity; and this must be its first recording ever. I was not aware of its existence until now. Besides being an excellent pianist and a long-time champion of Schoenberg’s piano music, Steuermann was also a composition student of Schoenberg, so that it may seem natural that he undertook the task of transcribing Verklärte Nacht; and he did so successfully, for this version works remarkably well, although it is unlikely to supplant either the original version or that for string orchestra. It is nevertheless nice to have it once, especially in as fine and committed a reading as this. It is nice, too, to have Felix Greissle’s transcription for piano trio of the vocal movement of Schoenberg’s Serenade Op.34, although it almost seems a trifle when compared to the Steuermann transcription.

Although Schoenberg has the lion’s share, the Webern selection may be intrinsically more interesting and revealing, for it confronts mature works with earlier pieces (Two Pieces for cello and piano, 1899) and pieces that have been either discarded or merely forgotten. The Webern pieces also raise some questions. For example, why was the so-called Cello-Sonate (lasting 1:32!) written at about the same time as the Three Little Pieces Op.11 not included into the Op.11 set? The music is clearly in the same vein and as fine as anything that Webern composed at that time, particularly the extraordinary Bagatellen Op.9 for string quartet or – for that matter – the epigrammatic Four Pieces Op.7 for violin and piano heard here. It is good, too, to hear some early music by Webern, in this case the Two Pieces of 1899, still fairly traditional in their post-romantic expression, but already displaying one of Webern’s trademarks: brevity. The Variations Op.27 of 1936 is the only substantial piano piece in Webern’s mature output, and one of his most directly compelling pieces. His earlier attempts, Sonata Movement and Movement, both from 1906, were only discovered in 1965. They were composed a couple of years before the Passacaglia Op.1 and inhabit much the same harmonic and expressive world, freely tonal and chromatic but still with some post-romantic traits. Incidentally, at 4:46 and 6:55, they may be Webern’s longest single items. Listening to these highly chromatic and almost luxuriant piano pieces, one realises that Webern travelled a long arduous way to achieve the perfection of the Piano Variations. The posthumous Piano Piece (1925) and Children’s Piece (1924) are typical of Webern’s mature style. It is not clear whether the elliptical Piano Piece of 1924 was to be part of a larger set or just an essay in twelve-tone writing. The short Children’s Piece (apparently the first twelve-tone piece by Webern) was obviously planned as a movement for a set of pieces suggested by Emil Hertzka, the Viennese publisher, but was never completed. The Four Pieces Op.7 for violin and piano belong to a series of extremely concise works written at about the same time: Bagatellen Op.9, Five Pieces for Small Orchestra Op.10 and the Three Little Pieces Op.11, in which the basic material is often rather bluntly stated without any real attempt at development, the emphasis being more on the sonic qualities of isolated pitches.

This is a very interesting release, for besides a valuable Schoenberg rarity, it offers an enlightening glimpse into some of Webern’s early music as well as a very telling confrontation with his maturity, so that his musical progress may be better appreciated. Excellent performances and very fine recording. Completists either of Schoenberg or of Webern need not hesitate; others may also find much to enjoy.

Hubert Culot

 

 


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