Schoenberg: Op. 8; Moses und Aron – ‘The Golden Calf and the Altar’; Kol Nidre; Friede auf Erden, Six pieces for Male Chorus; Ei, du Lütte

COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Six Songs for Soprano and Orchestra
WORKS: Op. 8; Moses und Aron – ‘The Golden Calf and the Altar’; Kol Nidre; Friede auf Erden, Six pieces for Male Chorus; Ei, du Lütte

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PERFORMER: Jennifer Welch-Babidge (soprano), David Wilson-Johnson (rabbi-narrator), Simon Joly, Philharmonia Orchestra/Robert Craft

CATALOGUE NO: 8.557525
Few of the works on this latest instalment in Robert Craft’s Schoenberg series is at all well known. Yet they are full of (mostly tonal) delights which deserve to make them better known, starting with the jolly little partsong Ei, du Lütte, to a dialect text by Brahms’s friend Klaus Groth, very much in the manner of Brahms’s folksong settings, and progressing to the masterly handling of chromatic harmony on a large scale in the sublime Friede auf Erden. The six Op. 8 orchestral songs are, so to speak, Schoenberg’s Wesendonck-Lieder, gorgeous in colour and harmony, beautifully sung here by Jennifer Welch-Babidge, though I find her uncomfortably forwardly balanced.

The magnificently inventive Six Pieces for male chorus, Op. 35 of 1929-30, to Schoenberg’s own texts – it’s astonishing to remember these were written for and enthusiastically sung by German workers’ choirs – seamlessly mingle tonal, freely-chromatic and 12-note working. Kol Nidre, a ‘late-tonal’ work written in his Californian exile and not without its Hollywoodish aspects, treats the traditional text for the Jewish Day of Atonement, but with deviations from the Orthodox ritual that led to its banning from use in synagogues. It is effectively contrasted with the episode of ‘the Golden Calf and the Altar’ from Moses und Aron, some of the most dramatic music he ever wrote. There are few alternative versions of most of these pieces, and the disc is well worth acquiring by any Schoenbergian.

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Calum MacDonald