Journeys: Schoenberg • Tchaikovsky
Neither of these works is to be undertaken lightly, and they have been lucky in their recordings. But I can’t remember them ever being coupled together, and, given that they were both composed in the 1890s, they make an obvious pairing.
Souvenir de Florence’s turbulent opening is immediately gripping, but the resonant recording makes detail hard to hear and doesn’t always leave the stereo image clear. Quieter, slower music comes across better: there isn’t much of it in this movement, but the charming serenade-like outer sections of the Adagio reveal a performance of subtlety and charm, with care over rubato, vibrato and blend. It’s the same story in the last two movements, where Tchaikovsky’s many fortissimo markings are scrupulously observed, but the music becomes congested and strenuous.
There’s just a small gap before the Schoenberg, which points up the fact that both pieces are in D minor, and the opening pages are magical, with vibrato and warmth gradually creeping into the music. The Emersons and their friends create such a wide range of colour that, as with the Tchaikovsky, it’s sometimes hard to realise that there are only six players involved. But they don’t always treat Schoenberg’s quieter dynamics with restraint, and the intricacies of his contrapuntal writing don’t always come through. It’s not just the recording that’s to blame here: the players are passionate, but let themselves be carried away, and they lose the music’s reflective quality.