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Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Six A Capella Mixed Choruses [17:54]
String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10 [29:59]
Suite in G for String Orchestra [30:01]
Jennifer Welch-Babidge (soprano)
Fred Sherry String Quartet
Simon Joly Singers
Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble/ Robert Craft (conductor)
rec. 28 April 2005, Abbey Road Studios, London (Six A Capella Mixed Choruses); January 2005, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York (String Quartet No. 2); November 2004, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York (Suite in G). DDD
NAXOS 8.557521 [78:18]

 

 

This disc of Schoenberg from the Naxos Robert Craft Schoenberg Collection provides an interesting cross-section of works from forty years of the composer’s life. It covers three genres: string quartet, string orchestra and choral music.

The Six A Cappella Mixed Choruses that start the disc were begun in 1928 with the harmonisation of three folksongs at the request of the ‘State Commission for the Folksong-Book for Youth’ in Berlin. The remaining three folk arrangements were completed in an analogous style some twenty years later, Schoenberg then resident in Los Angeles. The studio surroundings of Abbey Road, lend an unexpected intimacy, as well as a somewhat exposed quality, to the sound of the Simon Joly Singers, who rise to the challenge, presenting a fittingly measured and able performance. The varying nature and mood of each text is effectively portrayed and conveyed.

The String Quartet No. 2 provides some of the most profound music on this disc, although – as Robert Craft in his useful booklet notes writes – it does ‘not make public statements’. It is surrounded with a concealed and personal tone throughout. Begun in 1907, and completed – at a particularly turbulent period in Schoenberg’s life – in September 1908 before its first performance in December of the same year, two of the quartet’s four movements see the addition of a soprano, who sings texts by the German poet Stefan George. Within the quartet Schoenberg makes considerable advances in technique and harmonic language, demonstrating skill in a notoriously difficult medium. The intimate quality found in the Mixed Choruses is continued in the quartet; both the performance itself by the Fred Sherry String Quartet and the recorded sound - now in a different venue - contributing to this commendable aspect of the disc. Jennifer Welch-Babidge gives a potent and intelligent performance in the final two movements of the work, and is appropriately responsive to the German texts.

The closing Suite in G for String Orchestra was composed in 1934 and was the first complete work from Schoenberg’s time in America. It was written with orchestras containing promising young players in mind, although the rather advanced technique required is sufficiently challenging for the work to be only seldom performed. The piece is labelled as in ‘the old style’, referring to the dance forms of the eighteenth-century, reflected in the five movements: Overture, Adagio, Minuet, Gavotte and Gigue. A lighter outlook here provides a natural balance to the darkness of the quartet. A full, warm and demonstrative string tone of considerable depth is supplied by New York’s Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble, rounding off a considerable contribution to the Schoenberg discography.

Adam Binks

see also Review by Michael Cookson

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