ALBUM TITLE: Schoenberg
WORKS: Chamber Symphony, Op. 9; Friede auf erden, Op. 13; Drei Volksliedsätze; Farben, Op. 16/3
PERFORMER: Accentus Chamber Choir/Laurence Equilbey; Ensemble Intercontemporain/Jonathan Nott
CATALOGUE NO: V 5008
Leaving aside the major masterpieces like Gurrelieder, Die Jakobsleiter and sections of the opera Moses und Aron, Schoenberg’s choral music is best sampled in small doses. Though the sleeve notes attempt to make a case (a dubious one, I’d have thought) for this music representing important markers in Schoenberg’s development, hearing it all together, as here, does no one any favours. It does offer comparisons between the two versions of the early Friede auf Erden, the unaccompanied original from 1907 alongside the rather pawky one with an ensemble doubling the vocal lines that Schoenberg made four years later in an effort to make the work performable. But after that richly textured music, which is performed with wonderful poise and immaculate intonation by Accentus, pieces like the Drei Volksliedsätze and the two psalm settings that were Schoenberg’s final works seem drily academic, and bleached of real expressive colour.
In the middle of this sequence Jonathan Nott conducts a febrile account of the First Chamber Symphony, one that is beautifully precise rhythmically and wonderfully clean technically. The sound tends to brittleness and lacks a real sense of the rival versions, it’s Riccardo Chailly’s that places the piece most precisely on that cusp between Romanticism and Modernism. There’s also a curious transcription for unaccompanied choir by Franck Krawczyk of Farben, the third of the Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 16; its array of slowly shifting, wordless chords underpinned with heavy breathing seems supremely pointless. Andrew Clements