Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4; String Trio, Op. 45

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4; String Trio, Op. 45
PERFORMER: Juilliard String Quartet with Walter Trampler (viola) and Yo-Yo Ma (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: SK 47690 DDD
Coupling the 1899 Verklärte Nacht with the 1946 String Trio – a late 12-note work – raises the possibility of special pleading: buy the disc for Schoenberg’s reassuringly familiar Romantic composition, and you might be converted to the more difficult one too. As a marketing strategy, that seems reasonable; both performances here could persuade a variety of listeners.

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You’d expect a big-gestured, strongly characterised reading with Walter Trampler and Yo-Yo Ma augmenting the Juilliard Quartet in Verklärte Nacht; and though these players sometimes take a larger-than-life approach to the score’s dynamic markings, the results never struck me as inappropriate. This 1991 performance is real chamber music; if the case notes hadn’t revealed that Trampler and Ma play second viola and second cello respectively, I wouldn’t have been sure who were the guests. Like many leading string players, at least one musician adds some irritating breathing noises to the quite close-miked recording.

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The 1985 recording of the trio benefits from the continuing vitality and real musicality, as well as experience, of three of the Juilliard Quartet’s members. There is much to enjoy as well as simply admire here. Keith Potter