WORKS: String Quartet, Op. 3; Lyric Suite,
PERFORMER: Schoenberg Quartet; Pierre Woudenberg (clarinet), Bob Zimmerman (harmonium), Sepp Grotenhuis (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9999
Berg’s chamber output really only consists of three works – the String Quartet, the Lyric Suite and the tiny set of Four Pieces for clarinet and piano, Op. 5. Here that last work is played in Henk Guittart’s recent arrangement for viola and piano, which adds nothing to the original and seems a bizarre piece of programming when a clarinettist is recruited elsewhere on the disc. The other two arrangements here, though, are the composer’s own. His version for violin, clarinet and piano of the central movement of the Chamber Concerto is well known, but the instrumental reworking of the passacaglia that ends his ravishing orchestral Altenberg Lieder has never been recorded before; Berg wrote it in 1917 as a present for Alma Mahler and her daughter Anna.
Anyone interested in the small print of Berg’s output will want to hear beautifully sifted textures of that rare morsel, but the real substance of this disc remains the two quartets. The Schoenberg Quartet has already shown its affinity with the Second Viennese School in its surveys of Schoenberg (reviewed last December) and Zemlinsky (see August), and there is nothing about its performances that is less than idiomatic or technically secure, but equally nothing that is truly outstanding about them either. The finest recent interpreters, the LaSalle (currently unavailable) and the Alban Berg Quartets, convey the extremes of the writing more vividly – the intense emotional and structural compression of Op. 3, and the interlocking arcs of expression in the Lyric Suite which bind it into such a unique whole. The Alban Berg just wins out, thanks to a fuller, more immediate recording. Andrew Clements