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Recordings of the Month


From Ocean’s Floor


Conner Riddle Songs

Rodzinski Sibelius

Of Innocence and Experience


Symphonies 1, 2, 3



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Sound Samples & Downloads

Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Pelleas und Melisande, Op. 5 (1903) [40:58] Erwartung, Op.17 (1909) [23:38]
Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet (soprano)
WDR Symphony Orchestra, Cologne/Jukka-Pekka Saraste
rec. live, October 2011, Philharmonie, Cologne, Germany
No texts provided for Erwartung

Experience Classicsonline

Talk about switching compositional styles. Off the top of my head I can’t think of anyone as influential who changed as drastically and as quickly as Arnold Schoenberg. First there was his early period around 1894/1907 with his extending of the compositional styles of the late Romantic composers rooted in the Austro/German tradition. Fine examples are his symphonic poem Pelleas und Melisande (1903) and the massive cantata Gurrelieder (1900/11). In three sections, the first two of the Gurrelieder are heavily Wagnerian in inspiration with section three more Mahlerian. Next in the middle period 1908/22 comes a loosening of traditional compositional style with the use of radical atonalism - sometimes known as “free atonality”.This is typified by his melodramas Pierrot Lunaire and Erwartung. Finally from 1923 onwards Schoenberg developed and adopted his own atonal twelve-tone system, a type of serialism. Examples of this can be heard in his unfinished opera Moses and Aaron (1930/32), in the Violin Concerto (1934/36) and in the cantata A Survivor from Warsaw (1947).
It is rare to encounter these Schoenberg scores in performance particularly Erwartung. However there is a surprisingly healthy number of both in the record catalogues. In these times of economic austerity with numbers of bums on seats being so crucial I would think that the chances of hearing Erwartung being programmed by any of my local orchestras: the Hallé, RLPO, Manchester Camerata or BBC Phil are virtually nil. In May this year at the Dresden Music Festival I did attended a marvellous performance of Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande played by the Czech Philharmonic under Ingo Metzmacher at the Semper Opera House. As luck would have it when I returned home from Germany a few days later this recording of Pelleas und Melisande on the Profil label was waiting for me in the letter box.
Schoenberg’s symphonic poem Pelleas und Melisande, Op. 5 was completed in 1903 and premièred by the composer two years later in Vienna. Employing a large orchestra the score is cast in a single continuous movement with numerous interconnected sections. Schoenberg based the work on Maurice Maeterlinck’s dramatic play Pelléas and Mélisande (1892). It traces the forbidden love of the title characters and is destined to end in tragedy. In many respects the story is not dissimilar to that of Tristan and Isolde. It is said that Richard Strauss may have alerted or suggested Maeterlinck’s dramatic play to Schoenberg. So lushly orchestrated, Schoenberg’s score can appear saturated with notes. This gorgeous wash of rich and colourful sound quickly shifts from one dramatic climax to the next; sometimes ecstatic, sometimes thunderous. I admire the way that Schoenberg gives all sections of the orchestra the opportunity to shine or at least be reasonably involved. I especially enjoy hearing the final section for its increasing weight and intensity of sound and its dark colouring representing the death of Melisande.
Erwartung is a single act melodrama in four scenes for soprano and orchestra; an apotheosis of the expressionist spirit. Completed in a matter of weeks in 1909 Erwartung or Expectancy/Expectation uses a libretto that Schoenberg commissioned from a newly qualified medical student Dr. Marie Pappenheim; a member of his circle in Vienna. Pappenheim’s libretto is a psychological murder mystery that explores various extremes of emotional state. It portrays an anonymous woman referred to as “Die frau” (The woman) dressed in white who goes to meet her lover in a moonlit forest. The text suggests that the woman is agitated and terribly scared. In the final scene the woman finds the dead body of her lover and expresses her anger that he may have been having an affair with someone else. Pappenheim’s text doesn’t disclose who killed the man. In the forest the distraught women calls out for help but no one responds. She wonders if she can go on living without her lover. As Die frau New Orleans-born soprano Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet is highly convincing and could have been living the part. Compared to the brighter and warmer toned Jessye Norman on Philips the focused Charbonnet with her darker tone and near mezzo register conveys a far greater sense of the woman’s anxiety-laden temperament. Although prominent, Charbonnet’s vibrato never feels obtrusive. All in all the ideally cast dramatic soprano gives a mightily impressive performance reaching deep into the psyche. The orchestra create an appositely chilling atmosphere. If any work requires texts it is Erwartung and I am extremely disappointed that none has been provided. [You can find it here]
As one expects from radio orchestra engineers the recorded sound from the Philharmonie, Cologne has splendid clarity, presence and balance.
Michael Cookson


































































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