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SACD Review

Arnold Schoenberg

MD&G SACD 9371584-6
  • 6 Lieder, Op. 8
  • 5 Orchestral Pieces, Op. 16
  • Notturno for Harp, Violin & Strings
  • Johann Sebastian Bach: Prelude & Fugue, BWV 552 (arr. Schoenberg)
Manuela Uhl, soprano
Beethoven Orchestra Bonn/Stefan Blumier
Dabringhaus & Grimm MDG9371584-6 Hybrid Multichannel SACD
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To say that Schoenberg's music is tough, radical and uncompromising is an understatement, but despite his harsh language, many of his compositions are performed with regular frequency. The four pieces on this disc do not fall within the popular bracket, but they do make for some fascinating listening, particularly the hitherto unknown "Notturno" which is the earliest piece on the programme. Written in 1896, it was thought to have been lost, but eventual identification was possible through many means, not least Schoenberg's fingerprint in the cello part. Edited and published in 2001, it is deeply atmospheric and hints of what was to come are already amply evident.

The 6 Lieder, Op. 8 date from 1903/05 and they were the first songs written for large orchestra. By now Schoenberg was well on the road towards the 12-tone system but these pieces seem to have a certain "hovering tonality" as the composer chose to call it. They seem to be poised between no-longer late Romantic harmony and yet not-completely-free of tonality.

The 5 Orchestral Pieces, Op. 16 were composed very quickly in 1916 and they represent an extension to Schoenberg's tonal language which later became known as atonality, a term the composer refuted strongly. The orchestration of Bach's Prelude and Fugue BWV552 is a truly virtuosic piece, although no one really knows the reason why he embarked on this arrangement. It is surmised that Schoenberg believed the organ colours were inadequate to bring out with full precision, the linear course of the fugue's individual voices, and so turned to the orchestra to help listeners appreciate Bach's superb piece more.

This is an unusually approachable Schoenberg disc in immaculate sound quality and very attractive presentation.

Copyright © 2010, Gerald Fenech

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