One of the most grown-up review sites around
One of the most grown-up review sites around

Search MusicWeb Here


International mailing

Up to 40% off

  Founder: Len Mullenger


Some items
to consider

in the first division

extraordinary by any standards

An excellent disc

a new benchmark

summation of a lifetime’s experience.

Piano Concertos 1 and 2
Surprise Best Seller and now

A Garland for John McCabe


DIETHELM Symphonies

The best Rite of Spring in Years

BACH Magnificat

Brian Symphs 8, 21, 26

Just enjoy it!

La Mer Ticciati







CD: AmazonUK
Download: Classicsonline

Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Pelléas und Mélisande, Op. 5 (1902) [40:23]
Erwartung, Op. 17 (1909)* [28:36]
Anja Silja (soprano)*
Philharmonia Orchestra/Robert Craft
rec. 20 August 1999 (Pelléas); 16-18 February 2000 (Erwartung), Studio No 1. Abbey Road, London, UK
NAXOS 8.557527 [69:00]
Experience Classicsonline

When it comes to tempestuous premieres Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring gets all the press, even though Schoenberg’s Pelléas und Mélisande received a pretty hostile reception at its first night in Vienna eight years earlier. As with Le sacre it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about, but there are still those who consider Stravinsky and Schoenberg to be ‘difficult’ composers. Shrewdly, Naxos have embarked on a multi-volume Schoenberg series, in which key works are conducted by Robert Craft. Best known as Stravinsky’s amanuensis, Craft has made it his mission to promote and record the works of his master and those of the Second Viennese School.
This recording, originally released by Koch International, couples two of Schoenberg’s earlier works. The composer was unaware that Maurice Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas et Mélisande had already been set as an opera by Claude Debussy and premiered at the Opéra-Comique, Paris, in April 1902. Apart from being written as a symphonic poem, Schoenberg’s approach to Pelléas is radically different in other ways, condensing the story into a mere 40 minutes. As for Erwartung he chose another, grittier, tragedy, Marie Pappenheim’s dramatic monologue about a woman who murders her lover yet awaits a tryst with him.
In terms of its thrust and musical language Schoenberg’s Pelléas isn’t that different from Gurre-Lieder, the first part of which was completed by 1901. Both works share a post-Romantic sensibility and dramatic intensity, qualities that Craft points up very well indeed. (His recording of Gurre-Lieder is available on Naxos 8.557518/9.) In both recordings the conductor’s approach is direct and unsentimental, the ever-flexible Philharmonia responding with playing of considerable weight and power.
Schoenberg’s real achievement in the four linked movements of Pelléas is that he captures every aspect of this Tristan-style drama – complete with leitmotivs – within what is essentially a traditional symphonic form. The tender love music will surely remind listeners of Waldemar and Tove in Gurre-Lieder, but really it’s Wagner that most comes to mind, especially those surging climaxes and transformation of key themes. The Philharmonia are superb throughout, commanding when they need to be – the evolving Fate motif, now for brass, now for higher woodwinds – and sensuous, too, in the music we associate with Golaud the husband and Mélisande the bride.
In terms of its incisive writing Schoenberg’s Pelléas could be the perfect antidote for those who find Debussy’s masterpiece too long and tremulous for their tastes. It certainly helps if you know the story – no synopsis is provided ­– as the track titles won’t tell you anything at all. Just recently I took EMI to task over their meagre booklets, pointing out that Naxos usually get it right. Not so here, although Craft’s detailed essay on Erwartung is very impressive indeed. What a pity Pelléas only gets a paltry half page.
I must agree with my colleague Brian Wilson (see his review) who quibbled about the coupling, albeit for very different reasons. It’s not that I dislike Erwartung, it’s just that I have a powerful aversion to Anja Silja’s distressingly wide vibrato. Hers has never been the loveliest of voices, so it was entirely appropriate to cast her as the Witch in Hänsel und Gretel at Covent Garden last year. Yes, she is suitably inward and dramatic in the quieter moments of this anguished monodrama – in Scene IV, for example – but even allowing for the angst of this work Silja’s wild vocals are just too distracting for me. I much prefer Jessye Norman (Philips 475 6395) who at least has the amplitude and steadiness that Silja sorely lacks.
Not having heard the original Koch release I can’t say how this transfer compares. What I can say, though, is that the Naxos sound is big and bold – if a little dry – which rather suits Craft’s robust view of these scores. There are other fine interpreters of Pelléas, Pierre Boulez and Zoltán Kocsis among them, but at least Craft’s version won’t break the bank. As for alternatives to Erwartung, I’d say just about any of them would be preferable to this one.
Naxos must be commended for resurrecting these Craft recordings, even if they aren’t always as persuasive as they could be. I certainly didn’t warm to this conductor’s Gurre-Lieder – try Gielen on Hänssler 93198 instead – but at budget price this review disc offers an attractive Pelléas at least.
Dan Morgan

see also review by Brian Wilson



Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
(THE Polish label)
Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Senior Editor
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger



Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Pat and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.