Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951) Herzgewächse, Op.2 (1911) [3:31] Pierrot Lunaire, Op.21 (1912) [36:30]
Four Orchestral Songs, Op.22 (1916) [13:32]
Chamber Symphony No.1, Op.9 (1906) [20:20]
Eileen Hulse (sop)
(op. 2); Anja Silja (sprechtstimme) (op. 21); Catherine Wyn-Rogers
(mezzo) (op. 22)
Members of the London Symphony Orchestra (op. 2); Twentieth
Century Classics Ensemble (opp. 9 & 21);
Philharmonia Orchestra (op. 22)/Robert Craft
rec. American Academy of Letters and Arts, 1997 (op. 21),
SUNY Purchase, NY, 1998 (op. 9) and Abbey Road Studios, London,
1994 (op. 2) and 1998 (op. 22) NAXOS 8.557523 [73:53]
reissues of the Koch/Robert Craft series continue with what
must be one of the most enticing Schoenberg collections around.
This is a well-nigh ideal introduction to his Expressionist
years, with only really the Five Orchestral Pieces and Erwartung missing.
All the pieces are in safe hands with these performers, and
only in a couple of cases would I opt for other recordings.
discs opens with that curious little masterpiece Herzgewächse (Love’s
Foliage), a short setting of a typical text by Maeterlinck,
dense with symbolism and period angst. It’s scored for coloratura
soprano, harmonium, celesta and harp, and odd but colourful
accompaniment that glints and wheezes below the adventurous
vocal line. If angularity of phrase and width of interval
are seen as characteristic of Expressionist compositions,
then this takes the biscuit – the singer needs a three octave
compass and at the end is asked to soar up to F above top
C, and sing it pppp! It’s an almost insane demand,
but sopranos whom take this piece on are usually up to it,
and Eileen Hulse is well on top of things. She has a pleasingly
rounded tone, and if I miss the razor-sharp edge and precision
of Christine Schaeffer and Boulez (DG, also coupled with Pierrot
Lunaire), Hulse does invest the song with more warmth
and feeling than some.
rendition of Pierrot Lunaire is also pretty good,
though here it’s how the term sprechtstimme (speech-song)
is interpreted that is the moot point. Anja Silja is as adept
in this repertoire as any, and she is my favourite recorded
Marie in Berg’s Wozzeck (with Dohnanyi, Decca) so
she knows what’s needed. In this instance, she chooses more
to ‘sing’ rather than speak, and this makes the songs less
histrionic, more ‘normal’ (musical?) compared to other sopranos.
For instance, at the end of ‘Der Kranke Mond’ (The
Sick Moon, Tr.8) she simply sings the closing line softly
and lets it fade away, virtually ignoring Schoenberg’s instruction
here. Jane Manning (with Rattle on Chandos) makes a curious
gurgling noise, very theatrical, making the words dissolve
down into the depths. Schaeffer is somewhere between the
two, linking it perhaps more to its cabaret origins, but
it highlights the problems of interpreting this work and
that infamous sprechtstimme marking. Silja is certainly
alert to the mood of the text and she is beautifully accompanied
by Craft and his players, again quite romantically rather
than with Boulez’s cool, almost nervous edge.
Orchestral Songs are lovely creations, sensual settings
of three Rilke poems and one by another Expressionist favourite
Stefan George. In many ways they hark back to the Wagnerian
world of Gurrelieder rather than the hysterical
paranoia of Erwartung or the wild expressionism
of Pierrot. Catherine Wyn-Rogers has a mellifluous
mezzo tone that suits Craft’s warm approach, again perfectly
valid. I have got used to the glorious Yvonne Minton over
the years, deftly accompanied by Boulez and the BBCSO,
a filler to his Gurrelieder (Sony) but this Craft
version has better sonics, with a wide-ranging sound and
better orchestral focus.
Chamber Symphony is a wonderful piece, just about tonal
but full of the youthful invention and harmonic experimentation
that were to take him to the brink. It’s tightly structured,
a debt to his beloved Brahmsian model, and this version – in
its original chamber scoring – is lovingly phrased and
beautifully executed. I miss some the daring and sheer élan that
the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra bring to the piece (DG, coupled
with the Second Chamber Symphony and the ‘middle’ version
of Verklärte Nacht – an indispensable 20th Century
disc) but the Craft recording is well in keeping with his
general approach and rounds the disc off in style.
has become the norm, the authoritative and expert notes are
by Craft himself, but it’s a great shame there are no texts
when three of the four items here are major vocal works.
Knowing what is being sung is always important, but here
the words are utterly vital to an understanding of the composer’s
sound world and need to be followed. Luckily I dug them out
from the rival version discussed above, as others will have
to do, but at least Naxos provide a link to an online PDF
file of the original text, albeit without the important translation.
It’s a shame, but doesn’t prevent a firm recommendation for
the playing, singing and recording.
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