Schoenberg: Suite in G for String Orchestra; String Quartet No. 2; Six A Cappella Mixed Choruses

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COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Schoenberg
WORKS: Suite in G for String Orchestra; String Quartet No. 2; Six A Cappella Mixed Choruses
PERFORMER: Jennifer Welch-Babidge (soprano), Simon Joly Singers, Fred Sherry Quartet; Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble/Robert Craft
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557521
Robert Craft was behind the comprehensive Schoenberg edition that CBS released on LP in the 1960s, so no one should doubt his credentials as a champion of the composer. However, the Schoenberg issues in Naxos’s Craft collection suggest that while Schoenberg interpretation has moved on during the past 40 years, Craft’s readings remain where they used to be, concerned with technical accuracy more than musical sense. His new account of the Suite in G is stiff and unaffectionate, though there’s more to be said for the other works in this strangely assorted collection. It places the Second String Quartet – one of Schoenberg’s greatest achievements which broke his final links with the tonal world in 1908 – alongside his emphatically conservative suite from 1934 and the pleasant but negligible a cappella arrangements of German folk melodies, three of which date from 1928, the others from 20 years later.

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The Simon Joly Singers do an efficient job in the choral pieces, just as the Fred Sherry Quartet acquit themselves well enough in the Second Quartet, with Jennifer Welch-Babidge singing the Stefan George settings in the last two movements. But nothing about any of the performances conveys a real belief in this music. Comparing this account of the Quartet with the superb one by Christiane Oelze and the Leipzig Quartet just highlights what’s missing here – that Schoenberg’s step into the musical unknown was one he took through necessity and with real regret for the Romantic world he was leaving behind. There’s no trace of that feeling in the Naxos performance, any more than Craft’s account of the suite carries any sense of nostalgia. Schoenberg’s reluctance as a modernist is an important part of his musical make-up, but it seems to be ignored here. Andrew Clements