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Decca Phase 4
Moses und Aron (1930-1932)
Schöne (bass); Aron: Chris Merritt (tenor); Young
Girl: Irena Bespalovaite (soprano); Young Man: Bernhard Schneider
(baritone); Priest: Karl-Friedrich Durr (bass); First Elder: Ulrich
Frisch (baritone); Second Elder: Sasa Vrabac (tenor); Third Elder:
Stephan Storck (baritone); Invalid Woman: Emma Curtis (mezzo)
A Naked Youth: Alois Redel (tenor)
Stuttgart State Opera Chorus/Polish Radio Choir, Krakow/Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart State Orchestra/Roland Kluttig
rec. live, Staatsoper Stuttgart, Germany 10, 13, 20 September
NAXOS 8.660158-59 [52.02
I return to Schoenberg, often after a little while away,
my first reaction is ‘what a complicated and convoluted language’.
After that I move to consider what a genius he was.
this piece, when Act 2 ends, a real sense of sadness passed
over me. Why? Because the work is unfinished and emotionally
one feels quite drained. The two acts we have are called
1. The Calling and 2. The Golden Calf and the
third, for which only a few pathetic sketches survive, was
to have been Aaron’s Death.
why did Schoenberg start this extraordinary project? We have
to remember that in the late 1920s whilst Schoenberg espoused
the Lutheran religion of Germany he started to become increasingly
aware of the anti-semiticism which was soon to engulf the
country. Later he returned to Judaism but for now this biblical
subject allowed him to explore his own culture and motivation.
what is Moses and Aaron? In his excellent booklet
notes Sergio Morabito writes astutely: “Schoenberg’s objective
is to represent the personality clashes between the individual
characters of Moses, Aaron and the people, and because of
the religio- philosophical positioning of the opera, there
are no direct references to the historical past”. Schoenberg
brings it all into our own times. Not surprisingly therefore,
looking at the production photographs in the booklet, the
performers are in modern and quite informal dress. I wouldn’t
want to imply that there is no plot to speak of. Naxos does
not reproduce the text which actually on this occasion I
am quite relieved about as the work does seem incredibly
wordy. They do however supply a most useful three page synopsis
of each of the nine scenes incorporated in the two acts.
opera begins with Israel still under the yoke of Pharaoh.
Moses receives his calling from GOD and wants to lead the
Israelites out of Egypt. There is massive opposition. As
the plot develops we see Moses attempting to guide the people
away from the worship of the golden calf and the old superstitions
towards monotheism. He ascends the mountain to return with
the tablets of the law to find that the golden calf has disappeared.
The Israelites march out of Egypt. They have won the miracle
they had been asking for.
cannot be denied that listening to the work is tough but
then so is looking at the paintings of Picasso, Schoenberg’s
contemporary. Stylistically the opera relates to the Variations
for Orchestra written at the end of the 1920s. The interlude
between the acts is not unlike the wild frenetic writing
found in the film sequence music which falls half way through
Berg’s opera Lulu.
found myself wondering how the chorus, who are superb, managed
to remember it all, and how wonderfully the conductor Roland
Kluttig, well known in his work on many contemporary scores,
keeps it all so securely together. There are many passage
of highly complex polyphony and it must be remembered that
this is a fully-fledged twelve tone score - a fact which
Schoenberg was especially proud of. It is therefore also
tough for the listener but I do believe that the opera is
Schoenberg’s overwhelming masterpiece both in its sense of
drama and in its almost classical balance of number opera
and its espousal of Wagner’s concept of continuous symphonic
principals carry the main weight of the music. Whether Wolfgang
Schöne or any ‘singer’ performing Moses ends up rather frustrated
I wouldn’t know but he hardly sings at all. Schoenberg employs
his unique - for the time - sprechgesange initially
heard in the 1912 masterpiece Pierrot Lunaire. This
makes Moses stand apart from the other main roles although
in the writing for the chorus the composer sometimes also
adopts the same technique. Schöne is clear and rigorous throughout
and has the required air of bitterness and resignation. Chris
Merritt sings passionately as Aaron and knows the work intimately.
For my taste though he has too much vibrato, which in this
music can be a problem. In this context precision of pitches
and their relationships with other pitches is essential and
must not be compromised. To hear him at his best you must
look out for Boulez’s 1996 recording on DG with the Concertgebouw
(DG 449174). The minor roles are neatly cast and although
some can sound a little recessed their placement in the aural
space aids the stage image.
is a live version and you will, especially through headphones,
pick out audience noises occasionally and applause at the
very end. None of these factors are at all distracting. The
stereo spacing is good: you feel you are hovering somewhere
over say, the fifth row back from the front. Now and again
there is a sense of audio congestion but I suspect that this
is inevitable in a score of such complexity.
I had to pick a version I would go for the 1996 Boulez because
I prefer the solo work and the disc’s presentation. However,
at Naxos price for a work for which you need some patience
and application this version is perfectly good.
see also review by Ian Bailey
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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