Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Variations for Orchestra Op. 31 [19:52]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 6 in B minor “Pathétique” [49:24]
West-Eastern Divan Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim
rec. live, Großes Festspielhaus, Salzburg, 13 August 2007. DDD
DECCA 478 2719 [69.02]

There is an iridescent beauty to Schoenberg’s Variations for Orchestra that belies – or perhaps complements – its strict adherence to the mathematical rigour of classical dodecaphony. On this recording with Daniel Barenboim conducting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, the contrasts between the variations are well-marked, although those for smaller forces are, perhaps, rather more effective: the mass of sound that attends the more densely-scored sections tends to obscure the horizontal and vertical detail. However, there is plenty of incisive playing and good intensity of sound – although the middle of the texture could often be rather more prominent.

Barenboim’s rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B minor Pathétique is, unfortunately, rather more disappointing. The ensemble playing of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is not as tightly-controlled as it should be – in particular, there is too much lag along the string sections. The tempo of the second subject group of the first movement Adagio — Allegro non troppo is, for my taste, rather too indulgent; and several overtly prominent portamenti in the string playing are not always unified throughout the strings, nor are always most appropriately placed. The second movement Allegro con grazia tends to lean forward – the point of the 5/4 metre makes more impact if the tempo is completely steady. The march of the third movement Allegro molto vivace, however, though rather steadier than some interpretations, is nevertheless tautly controlled, with some good layering of the texture; and the fourth movement Finale: Adagio lamentoso – Andante is deeply heartfelt, the antiphonally placed first and second violins noticeably enhancing the sobbing of the opening phrases.

The disc is well-presented, although the booklet notes (also in French and German) are rather brief. On the whole, however, no buyer should feel let down by the purchase of this disc.

Em Marshall

No buyer should feel let down by the purchase of this disc.