Schoenberg: Lied der Waldtaube; Der Buch der hangenden Garten; Concerto in B flat for String Quartet & Orchestra; Suite for Piano

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COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Schoenberg
WORKS: Lied der Waldtaube; Der Buch der hangenden Garten; Concerto in B flat for String Quartet & Orchestra; Suite for Piano
PERFORMER: Jennifer Lane, Christopher Oldfather, Fred Sherry Quartet, Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble, Robert Craft
CATALOGUE NO: 8.55752

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At the heart of this second volume in Naxos’s Schoenberg series are two vocal treasures. Though the composer’s chamber reduction of The Song of the Wood-Dove (from the mammoth choral-orchestral Gurrelieder) inevitably sacrifices something of the original’s sumptuous late-Romantic grandeur, there’s an equal gain in delicacy and intimacy, as this sensitive, impassioned performance shows.

The Book of the Hanging Gardens, by contrast, is one of the masterpieces of Schoenberg’s first fully atonal period – more inward and elusive than the much better-known Pierrot lunaire, but in its way just as remarkable. Again soprano Jennifer Lane does it more than justice, and Christopher Oldfather is a fine musical partner. We hear Oldfather as soloist making a persuasive case for the somewhat less tractable Suite for Piano (one of Schoenberg’s earliest 12-note essays).

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But this is ambrosial compared to the Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra ‘after Handel’ – proof that you can bring all the resources of a great creative mind to bear on a musical problem and still end up with something irredeemably ghastly. Was Schoenberg trying to prove he could better the neoclassical Stravinsky of Pulcinella? If so, he failed – but even then some might find the wreckage perversely fascinating. Stephen Johnson