Berg, Schoenberg, Webern: Piano Pieces, Opp. 11, 19, 33a & b; Suite, Op. 25

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COMPOSERS: Berg,Schoenberg,Webern
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Piano Pieces, Opp. 11, 19, 33a & b; Suite, Op. 25
PERFORMER: Peter Hill (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553870
Schoenberg’s output for solo piano is not large, but its significance can scarcely be exaggerated. Schoenberg turned to the piano at crucial stages in his career: the Three Pieces Op. 11 represent his first foray into the realm of purely instrumental non-tonal music, while the Six Little Pieces Op.19, composed shortly before Pierrot lunaire, introduce a new aphoristic phase. As for the Five Pieces Op. 23 and the Suite Op. 25, they mark the emergence of Schoenberg’s revolutionary 12-note method.

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Peter Hill’s thoughtful performances have much to commend them. They are generally warmer than Maurizio Pollini’s famous accounts, and if Hill is almost ponderously slow in the first two of the Op. 11 triptych, he is especially fine in such pieces as the last of the Op. 19 set, with its distant bell overtones inspired by Mahler’s funeral; or in the Brahmsian Intermezzo from the Op. 25 Suite. There are times, however, when Pollini’s dazzling and more brittle approach pays dividends, conveying the music’s nervous abruptness, its sudden eruptions, with greater vividness. In the virtuoso Suite, for instance – a piece which, in Theodor Adorno’s evocative simile, ‘glistens like the steel furniture of the Bauhaus’ – Hill tends to smooth over the music’s violent dynamic contrasts. The romantic style of Berg’s early single-movement Sonata suits him better, and the slow outer movements of Webern’s Op. 27 Variations (again, highly reminiscent of late Brahms) are superbly done. As an introduction to some of the most rewarding piano music of the century, this disc can warmly be recommended. Misha Donat