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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



DVD-AUDIO REVIEW

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Available again


Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Early and Unknown String Works
Sonnenschein-Polka [Sunshine Polka] for 2 violins (after 1882) [3:09]
"Alliance" Walzer ["Alliance" Waltz] for 2 violins (after 1882) [5:41]
3 Lieder ohne Worte [Songs Without Words] for 2 violins (after 1882) [8:08]
Geburtstags-Marsch [Birthday March] for 2 violins and viola (after 1882) [1 part] [4:01]
Romance Ré mineur [Romance in D minor] for 2 violins and viola (after 1882) [2 parts] [8:32]
String Quartet in F major (before 1897) [fragment] [:33]
Gavotte und Musette (im alten Style) [Gavotte and Musette (in old style)] for string orchestra (1897) [original version] [2:18]
11 Waltzes for String Orchestra (1897) [15:21]
Toter Winkel for string sextet (1899) [fragment] [1:46]
String Quartet in D minor (1904) [8:58]
String Quartet in C major (after 1904) [fragment] [1:01]
String Quintet in D major (1905) [fragment] [:32]
String Septet (1918) [fragment] [:54]
String Quartet Movement (1926) [fragment] [:26]
String Quartet (1926) [1:40]
Untitled in D major (1926) [fragment] [:12]
String Quartet in C major (after 1927) [fragment] [1:49]
Mirror Canon in A major for string quartet (after 1930) [:27]
Fugue [arranged for string quartet by Stephen Dembski] (1938) [fragment] [1:27]
String Quartet #5 [2:41]
Rangzen Quartet & Strings
Christina Fong
rec. June-August 2006, Saint Isidore in Grand Rapids, Michigan USA
96kHz/24bit Audio DVD
OGREOGRESS 634479454004 [69:29]

 

Experience Classicsonline


This is the eleventh in a series featuring previously unreleased or rarely recorded works by well-known composers, amounting to what some might consider the factory sweepings and youthful attempts of Arnold Schoenberg. Audio DVD is a new medium to my collection, and potential purchasers need to know that this disc will not play on conventional CD equipment. Those of you who are set up with all-singing and dancing multi-media machines and DVD reproduction equipment where the helicopters fly across the room need have no worries, and these releases will also play nicely on modern computers, where I have done much of the listening for this review on big heavy headphones. Other than extended playing times and surround-sound potential I am not however sure of the advantages for DVD on a disc like this, which has none of the former and no mention of the latter. The 96kHz/24bit sampling rate is the same for most conventional CDs [see footnote for correction], and the sound quality is very good, set in a somewhat vast and over-resonant acoustic but with plenty of quite close-up detail.

The programme of this disc contains the world premiere recordings of 22 string works (8 complete, 15 fragments) by Arnold Schoenberg. The music is usefully split into chronological sections. ‘First Attempts at Composition’ show some quite naive but precociously melodic and sometimes quite experimental short pieces for two violins. The Polkas and Marches have an in-your-face abundance of youthful joy which drives the listener up the wall fairly quickly, but the Songs Without Words have more mysterious harmonies and a less conventional, more freely imaginative feel. For an eight-year old these pieces certainly show an exceptional talent, and the Songs Without Words were made when Schoenberg had started with violin lessons. The Romance in D minor Op.1 is the first piece which shows an inkling of Schoenberg’s fascination with remote modulations, and dissonances both in melody and harmony. As with other of the early pieces there is an entire violin part missing, and fragments of the viola part torn off, so some moments in the music sound even stranger than they might originally have done. The academic interest in hearing what remains of this music might be stronger than any argument for it as a genuine musical experience, but it does show a direct line to later works in the choice of one of the composer’s favourite keys, D minor.

‘Studies with Zemlinsky/Brahms, Beethoven, and Wagner’ is the title for the next chapter in Schoenberg’s progress. Schoenberg developed quite a close relationship with Alexander von Zemlinsky, and some of the works which appear here may have been exercises in counterpoint given by this mentor. Schoenberg’s love of the work of Brahms also brings an elegant darkness to the string ensemble pieces in this section, as well as a Viennese character in the 11 Waltzes, which also recall some of Schubert’s earlier waltzes. In the late 1890s the influence of Wagner crops up more in the string sextet which Schoenberg began, Toter Winkel, which was intended as a programmatic work, and which is preceded by a poem by Gustav Falke which illustrated dark and sombre nocturnal images of nature and slumbering streets. Other fragments have prophetic glimpses into chromaticism and complex contrapuntal development, while there are also references to Beethoven in the remnants of the String Quartet in D Minor from around 1905.

The penultimate group of works are labelled ‘On the path to the twelve-tone method’ in the excellent booklet notes. The incomplete String Septet was written during the economic hardships of 1918, and was being sketched while Schoenberg was composing Die Jakobsleiter. The reasons for starting such a work are unclear, but the motivic concept and development are an audible anticipation of atonal thinking. Schoenberg returned to the Septet in 1923, but abandoned it, having moved much further into the realism of 12-tone composition by that time. An example of this is the 1926 String Quartet, drafted but rejected in favour of the Third String Quartet Op.30, which Schoenberg actually did finish. A bizarrely out of context sounding tonal String Quartet in C fragment shows the great atonal pioneer reverting to conservatism – a blip apparently proven by the printing of the manuscript paper which is from 1925, the reasons for the extract remaining a mystery.

‘In America’ rounds off the programme, with some of the work written while Schoenberg was dealing with his own responses to Jewish persecution and the news of Kristallnacht. A manuscript containing a mournful unfinished Fugue is the composer’s possible response to this, with the date indicating a strong association. The String Quartet # 5 of 1949 was initiated by the then Juilliard Quartet’s request for a new work. These intense and emotionally charged moments are the last pieces Schoenberg would write for strings.

This DVD is essential listening for any serious student of Schoenberg. Having these fragments recorded bring to vivid life the development and struggles around one of the most influential developments in musical language of the 20th century. The performances are good in general, though there are one or two places where intonation and some heavy-handedness might leave room for some small improvements. These mild criticisms and the rather overbearing acoustic resonance pale against the value of having these fragments played and recorded to a high standard. The booklet notes are very helpful, and have a rich appendix of references. This disc may not have the greatest of attraction as fodder for the casual listener. The music goes beyond academic interest for the most part, but many of the fragments are so short that you only get a whiff of what the composer may have been preparing to express.  As a supplement to Schoenberg’s biographical story and for placing his works in a deeper context, this release is of course a must, and OgreOgress and the performers deserve applause for all their efforts and investment in such a noble project.

Dominy Clements

Footnote from Glen Freeman

Conventional CDs playback at 44.1kHz/16bit. Therefore, no matter how well the source recording is transferred to CD, the quality of the original source recording (96kHz|24bit in this case) can never be fully experienced on CD. It is like comparing DVDs to Blu-ray discs. When one has the correct equipment for 96kHz|24bit playback (HDMI-compatible DVD player with HDMI-compatible amplifier), the audio quality difference is obvious.


Also, even with a computer, these discs are playing back at 48kHz/24bit, better than CDs. On DVDs, streaming technology down samples recordings according to your setup.


 


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