Giuseppe Giannone, who lives in Italy, was the Winner
of the July competition and chose this disc as his prize. He was so delighted
with it he sent in this review.
This recording is not new, the CD was released in 1993 and at that time it
received a lot of awards. I think it deserves the highest consideration as
an "evergreen" modern classic.
First of all the unusual choice of the program must be appreciated. Arnold
Schoenberg is still often considered a difficult composer, too "serious",
and with a lot of strictly musical problems, which prevent the average listener
from understanding his music. Actually he was (and loved to consider himself)
the link between the great German musical tradition and the future.
The works included in this CD date back to the first decade of the twentieth
century and reveal two very different aspects of Schoenberg's activity:
Erwartung (1909) is the well known masterpiece of expressionism while
the Brettl Lieder (1901) are cabaret songs written by the young composer
during a short stay in Berlin, but published only after his death. So here
we find an unexpected (or at least less known) side of Schoenberg's personality
and I must say it is really a pleasure listening to such high entertainment
It was intended for a cabaret theatre, but that cabaret in Berlin at the
beginning of the century was a literary cabaret with musicians like Schoenberg
and poets like Dehmel and Wedekind. The quality of the songs reflects that
environment and it is not typical of popular music. The last song,
Nachtwandler (Night Wanderer) is especially notable: the voice is
accompanied by piano, piccolo, trumpet, and snare drum and, as Schoenberg
noted, perhaps it is the first example of chamber music for a very small
orchestra before jazz ensembles.
The second and most important strength of this CD is Jessye Norman's voice.
In Erwartung she is perfect: more than 32 minutes alone in this difficult
"monodrama" which is a continuous psychological stream where it is the music
and especially the voice which express all the states of mind of the woman
who is the only character. So the great soprano can use all her art to let
us feel immersed I do not know if in the always changing musical material
or in the woman's psychological flow itself. Here almost all the possibilities
of human voice can be heard.
Also her performance in the Brettl Lieder is elegant and exciting and it
is clear she enjoys singing such nice intriguing songs.
Last but not least James Levine shows his known ability in working with singers,
both as a conductor and as a pianist. He accompanies Jessye Norman and seems
to give her all the necessary freedom to express her outstanding technique.
The quality of the recording is extremely good and makes it possible to
appreciate all the wonderful colours of that great voice. Also the orchestra,
the piano, and the chamber ensemble are reproduced at their best, but it
is the voice which hypnotises the listener.