Schoenberg • Webern
Originally a string sextet, Arnold Schoenberg’s earliest and still most nearly popular masterpiece Verklärte Nacht has been as frequently recorded in its later full string orchestra version. The Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne cannot quite generate the ‘transfigured night’ sheen of Herbert von Karajan’s Berlin Philharmonic, and their new account under Heinz Holliger unfolds at relatively steady tempos, with more compositional logic than late Romantic passion, though it is very clear in detail. Webern’s posthumously published Langsamer Satz, composed when he was studying with Schoenberg and audibly influenced by Verklärte Nacht is, however, affectionately characterised.
The real interest here, however, is Schoenberg’s far less well-known Chamber Symphony No. 2, substantially composed in 1906‑8, tinkered with over the decades, but not completed till 1939. In the meantime, he had evolved through his atonal and 12-tone serial phases, yet he evidently strove to preserve the expanded-tonal style of his original conception. Opening in a mood of autumnal unease, it later throws up an increasingly hectic central scherzo before dramatically reverting to the opening music, now turned blackly tragic. The scoring is for an early Beethoven-size orchestra, and Holliger’s deployment of a relatively small string line-up and moderate tempos have the advantage over Robert Craft’s more sweeping Naxos version with the full strings of the Philharmonia, in enabling one to discern the many cogent inner workings of this haunting score.