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Schoenberg: Pierrot lunaire, etc

Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin, sprechgesang), et al (Alpha Classics)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Pierrot lunaire; Phantasy, Op. 47; Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19; plus works by J Strauss II, Kreisler and Webern
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin, sprechgesang); Julia Gallego (flute), Reto Bieri (clarinet), Meesun Hong (violin), Thomas Kaufmann (cello), Joonas Ahonen (piano)
Alpha Classics ALPHA 722   72:49 mins


When a period of tendonitis forced a temporary break in her violin-playing career a few years ago, PatKop (as Kopatchinskaja likes to be styled) took time out to explore her fascination with the Sprechgesang (speech-song) technique first formulated in detail by Schoenberg in his Pierrot lunaire (1912). Though Schoenberg’s written introduction to the score attempted to define what he meant by Sprechgesang’s inhabiting of the no-man’s-land somewhere between speech and song, it remains doubtful if he knew exactly what he wanted; then as now, it was up to the individual performer to make the idea work somehow.

Kopatchinskaja’s approach – sharp-focus, hyper-detailed and searching out over-the-top extremes of vocal delivery – is remarkable in its way, but almost totally misses compulsive melancholy and pathos that’s another essential part of the Pierrot phenomenon. The upside is the superlatively precise and stylish accompanying of her chosen team of five young instrumentalists, who do justice to every shade of the score’s mind-boggling technical mastery and range of invention.

The idea of linking the work to other examples of the Viennese chamber music tradition is a good one, but PatKop’s violin-playing style – again ultra-vivid, phenomenally brilliant and relentlessly in-your-face – won’t please everyone. As led by her, Strauss’s Emperor Waltz (in Schoenberg’s arrangement) and Kreisler’s Little Viennese March sound almost aggressively brittle, as do Webern’s super-concentrated Four Violin and Piano Pieces, Op. 7. Far more convincing is Joonas Ahonen’s beautifully shaded articulation of Schoenberg’s Six Little Pieces, Op. 19 for solo piano.


Malcolm Hayes