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Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Six A Cappella Mixed Choruses, Op. 49:* Mein Herz in steten Treuen (My heart forever true) (1948) [04.08]; Der Mai tritt ein mit Freuden (May arrives with Joy) (1948) [02.05]; Herzlieblich Lieb, durch Scheiden (My Dearest Love, Through Our Parting) (1928); [01.30]; Es gingen zwei Gespielen gut (Two Good Maiden Friends) (1948) [03.21]; Es gingen zwei Gespielen gut (Two Good Maiden Friends) (1928) [03.21]; Schein uns, du liebe Sonne (Shine on Us, Dear Sun) (1928) [03.50] ***
String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10 (1907-08) [29.59]***
Suite in G major for String Orchestra (1934) [30.01] **
Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble, of New York**
Fred Sherry String Quartet***
Jennifer Welch-Babidge, soprano***
Simon Joly Singers*
Robert Craft, conductor
rec. Abbey Road, Studio, London, England 28 April 2005 (Six A Cappella Mixed Choruses); American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, USA, January 2005 (String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10 and November 2004 (Suite in G major for String Orchestra) DDD
NAXOS 8.557521 [78.18]

Naxos have released the third volume of their Robert Craft Collection of the Music of Arnold Schoenberg, featuring music composed over a period of forty years. Craft has recorded a wide range of symphonic, orchestral, operatic and large ensemble works including world premières of pieces by leading 20th-century composers such as Stravinsky, Berg and Schoenberg. His musical development was strongly influenced by Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School. Amongst his numerous recordings are a substantial number of works by Schoenberg including a successful series for the Koch International Classics label.

Six A Cappella Mixed Choruses, Op. 49 (first set 1928 and second set 1948)

In 1928 the ‘State Commission for the Folksong-Book for Youth’ in Berlin invited Schoenberg to harmonize three sixteenth-century popular German folk-songs. Schoenberg became deeply absorbed in the work and created three miniature polyphonic masterpieces. Twenty years later in Los Angeles he decided to arrange another three of these folk-songs in the same style.

The Simon Joly Singers recorded the Six A Cappella Mixed Choruses in the Abbey Road studios, in London. Their excellent singing brings to these neglected works a special rapturous glow. There is no evidence in this material for Schoenberg’s reputation for disruptive atonality and the singers provide sparkle, gravity and subtle colours.

String Quartet No. 2 in F sharp major, Op. 10 (1908)

Schoenberg began the composition of his second String Quartet, Op. 10, in Vienna in 1907. The score is deeply personal and transitionally experimental composed at a time when Schoenberg was experiencing distressing marital difficulties in his life. The four movements were not written in chronological order, the first having been composed more than a year before the others. The two vocal movements for soprano Litanei and Entrückung from texts by Stefan George (1868-1933) that conclude the quartet signify a new world in Schoenberg’s musical development. According to Craft these movements mark Schoenberg’s greatest advance in harmonic discovery and sensitivity thus far in his life: every chord, progression, combination of pitches, is utterly new and unerringly right, and the quiet, deliquescent string introduction to Entrückung, and the enthralling combination of voice and quartet throughout are a peak in early twentieth-century music. On this recording Craft has decided to present the String Quartet, op. 10 in its original form and not in Schoenberg’s 1929 String Orchestra version. Craft considers that the vocal movements contain some of the most inward Schoenberg ever wrote.

The Fred Sherry String Quartet demonstrate that they have full measure of the fascinating and often challenging second String Quartet. These are well-thought out accounts and the playing in the opening movement allegro and scherzo is especially fluent and outgoing. In the third movement entitled Litanei and the extended concluding movement Entrückung the soprano part is confidently sung by Jennifer Welch-Babidge. Her voice is strong and firm with a most impressive focus. The darker colour to her voice made me wonder if she was actually a mezzo. The quartet perform with conviction and a real sense of teamwork.

Suite in G major for String Orchestra (1934)

Schoenberg was persuaded by Martin Bernstein, a young double-bass player from New York University, to compose a work suitable for music students and the result was his "Suite written in the old style for string orchestra." Composed in the form of a baroque suite this is in five movements: Overture, Adagio, Minuet, Gavotte, and Gigue. Owing to the relative difficulty of the writing it is clear that Schoenberg was unaware of the primitive level of music training in American institutions at the time. The first performance was given by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Otto Klemperer in 1935. In fact, Klemperer and his professional players found the score, that was aimed at students, extremely difficult to perform. For this reason it is still, seventy years later, practically unknown.

The Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble from New York produce a wonderfully blended tone. They perform with a high degree of forward momentum and considerable spirit which makes a convincing case for this neglected score.

The sound quality is impressive and well balanced, with excellent booklet notes from Robert Craft.

A thoroughly enjoyable release which should convert many to Schoenberg’s music.

Michael Cookson


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