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The Second Viennese School
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Gurrelieder (1901/11) [110:10]
Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9 (1906) [21:50]
Erwartung, Op. 17 (1909) [29:52]
Variations for Orchestra Op. 31 (1928) [23:20]
Five Orchestral Pieces Op. 16 (original version, 1909) [18:39]
Anton WEBERN (1883-1945)
Six Orchestral Pieces, Op. 6 (1909, rev. 1928) [12:30]
Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 10- No’s 3-5 (1911/13) [3:13]
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Lulu Suite (1934) [34:14]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor Op. 25 (orch. Schoenberg, 1937) [42:41]
Arnold SCHOENBERG
A Survivor from Warsaw, Op. 16 (1947) [7:13]
Alban BERG
Violin Concerto (1935) - Concluding movement [10:41]
Recording details at end of review. DDD
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. 1984-2001
EMI CLASSICS 4575622
[5 CDs: 348:39]

Experience Classicsonline


To mark the thirtieth anniversary in 2010 of Sir Simon Rattle's exclusive recording contract with EMI Classics the label has issued twelve box sets comprising the ‘Simon Rattle Edition’. This volume is a five disc set of music from composers of the Second Viennese School. The recordings are predominantly from Rattle’s days with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Schoenberg’s massive late-romantic Gurrelieder was however recorded with his Berlin Philharmonic in 2001. To my knowledge Sir Simon hasn’t released any more works since by composers from the ‘Second Viennese School’.

This is a Rattle showcase; it is not a comprehensive collection of orchestral music of the avant-garde second Viennese school; music characterised by atonalism and Schoenberg’s twelve tone technique. There are several important works fitting that criterion that are not included on the set such as: Webern’s Passacaglia for orchestra, Op. 1, Symphony, Op. 21 and the Variations for orchestra, Op. 30, Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces, Op. 6 and Three Pieces from the Lyric Suite. Notable late-romantic works that are not included are Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4, the tone poem Pelleas und Melisande, Op. 5 and Webern’s Im Sommerwind for large orchestra.

There are two disappointing aspects to this set that left me scratching my head in bewilderment. In Webern’s Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 10 only the final three pieces are presented. Inexplicably Berg’s two movement Violin Concerto (To the Memory of an Angel) is represented only by the concluding movement. These performances seem to have been taken from the disc which is the second and final volume of Rattle’s soundtrack for the Channel 4 TV series ‘Leaving Home: An introduction of 20th century music. - Tonality, Colour, The American Way and Music Now’. It would seem that Rattle hasn’t recorded the two works in their entirety otherwise they would surely have been here. I cannot think why anyone would think it satisfactory to include two incomplete works in a set such as this.

Throughout this collection Rattle demonstrates real commitment coupled with playing that is vigorously alive and evinces a remarkable blend of expression and precision.

I have had this superb account of Gurrelieder in my collection since its release in 2002. Rattle elicits some glorious playing, often rich and sumptuous. I was mightily impressed with the levels of energy and drama in this compelling and deeply insightful reading. It would be hard to imagine the Gurrelieder having a finer cast than Karita Mattila (soprano), Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo), Thomas Moser (tenor), Philip Langridge (tenor) and Thomas Quasthoff (bass-baritone).

Schoenberg’s Erwartung, a monodrama for soprano and orchestra, contains much turbulent music. Clear-toned, agile and expressive Phyllis Bryn-Julson is a first-rate choice as soprano soloist to guide the listener through the score’s atonal complexities. Berg prepared the impressive Lulu Suite for soprano and orchestra from his unfinished and controversial opera. The orchestral suite contains much sumptuous and seductive music and Arleen Auger’s performance radiates intensity. Hang onto your hats for the earth-shattering orchestral climax at 6:10 (track 19).

In the cantata A Survivor from Warsaw scored for narrator, men’s chorus and orchestra Schoenberg pays homage to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Speaker Frank Mazura with impressively clear diction delivers a dramatic performance. Incidentally the liner-notes give the composition date as 1909, not 1947. Gidon Kremer’s playing in the concluding movement of Berg’s Violin Concerto demonstrates what a sensitive interpreter he is, bringing out the melancholy and introspection of the work.

With regard to some other accounts of the Gurrelieder in the catalogue there is a marvellous dramatic version performed by the Radio Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Riccardo Chailly on Decca 473 728-2. (c/w Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9 and Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4). Another fine recording is the exciting live event from maestro Eliahu Inbal with the Frankfurt RSO on Brilliant Classics 8156. Also worthy of consideration is the splendidly played account from the Staatskapelle Dresden/Giuseppe Sinopoli on Teldec 4509-98424-2.

For those interested in obtaining additional music of the ‘Second Viennese School’ I feel it is appropriate to mention a few competing versions in the catalogue. There are relatively few sets of music of the ‘Second Viennese School’ and probably the best known is the 1989 release from Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Karajan’s set comprises: Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande, Op. 5, Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31, Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4, Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6; Three Pieces from the Lyric Suite, Webern’s Passacaglia, Op. 1, Five Movements, Op. 5, Symphony, Op. 21 and Six Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6 on Deutsche Grammophon 427 4242 0.

Webern music is particularly well represented in the catalogues by some exceptional performances. Modern music specialist Pierre Boulez and the Berlin Philharmonic have a six disc Webern set on Deutsche Grammophon 457 6372 9. From this here are two single discs available separately that include some of the works on the EMI Rattle Edition. Boulez’s Volume II has the Webern Five Movements, Op. 5 and the Six Pieces, Op. 6 on Deutsche Grammophon 447 099-2 (c/w Webern Passacaglia, Op. 1, Fuga from JS Bach’s Musical Offering, Schubert orch. Webern German Dances) Boulez’s Volume III contains Webern’s Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 10 on Deutsche Grammophon 447 765-2 (c/w Webern Three Orchestral Songs, Symphony, Op. 21, Das Augenlicht, Op. 26, Cantata No. 1, Op, 29, Cantata; No. 2, Op. 31 and Variations for orchestra, Op. 30).

A wonderful single disc of Webern orchestral works that I greatly admire is from Giuseppe Sinopoli and the Staatskapelle Dresden. Beautifully played and recorded in 1986 the disc consists of: Im Sommerwind, Passacaglia, Op. 1, Six Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6, Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 10, Symphony, Op. 21, Concerto, Op. 24 and Variations for orchestra, Op. 30.

As one might imagine there are several versions of the Berg Violin Concerto in the catalogues. I especially admire Anne-Sophie Mutter. the excellent and sensitive soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra/James Levine on Deutsche Grammophon 437 093 2. (c/w Rihm Gesungene Zeit) Another fine account of the concerto is played expressively by Itzhak Perlman with the Boston Symphony Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa on Deutsche Grammophon 447 445 2. (c/w Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Ravel Tzigane). Previously released on Philips, a recent re-issue worthy of attention and high on intensity is played by soloist Gidon Kremer and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Sir Colin Davis from 1983/4 on Newton Classics 8802018. (c/w Berg Three Orchestral Pieces, Op.6)

For those that find the music of the ‘Second Viennese School’ a listening challenge there is nothing here that cannot be enjoyed with a combination of an open mind and a reasonable degree of concentration. The presentation of this EMI box is greatly let down by the lack of texts with translations. That said, the music is extremely well performed and the fine sound quality is as good as we have come to expect from EMI Classics.

Michael Cookson


Recording Details
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Gurrelieder
Tove - Karita Mattila (soprano); Waldtaube - Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo); Waldemar - Thomas Moser (tenor); Klaus-Narr – Philip Langridge (tenor); Bauer, Sprecher – Thomas Quasthoff (bass-baritone);
Rundfunkchor Berlin, MDR Rundfunkchor Leipzig, Ernst Senff Chor/Simon Halsey, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle rec. September 2001, Philharmonie, Berlin
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. 9-10 October 1993, Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Erwartung, Op. 17
Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31
Phyllis Bryn-Julson (soprano) (Op. 17)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. 30 September, 1 October 1993; 5-6 May 1993, Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Five Orchestral Pieces Op. 16
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. 19-21 December 1987; 29 April 1988, Butterworth Hall, Warwick Arts Centre, Warwick University
Anton WEBERN (1883 - 1945)
Six Orchestral Pieces, Op. 6
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. 29 April 1988, Butterworth Hall, Warwick Arts Centre, Warwick University
Anton WEBERN (1883 - 1945)
Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 10
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. 9, 15 July; 8-11 August 1995, Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Lulu Suite
Arleen Auger (soprano)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. 19-21 December 1987, Butterworth Hall, Warwick Arts Centre, Warwick University
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)/Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor Op. 25 (orch. Schoenberg)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. 19 July 1984, Snape Maltings, Suffolk
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
A Survivor from Warsaw, Op. 16
Frank Mazura (speaker)
Male voices of the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus,
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. 9, 15 July; 8-12 August 1995, Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Violin Concerto - Conclusion
Gidon Kremer (violin)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. 9, 15 July; 8-12 August 1995, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

 


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