Schoenberg: Chamber Symphony No. 2; Die glückliche Hand; Wind Quintet, Op. 26

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COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Schoenberg
WORKS: Chamber Symphony No. 2; Die glückliche Hand; Wind Quintet, Op. 26
PERFORMER: Mark Beesley (bass); Simon Joly Chorale; New York Woodwind Quintet; Philharmonia Orchestra/Robert Craft
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557526

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The real challenge of Schoenberg perhaps lies less in his dissonances and 12-tone rows than in the sheer unremitting intensity and inventiveness of his creative personality, in whatever style. Take any few bars of his first extended serial work, the Wind Quintet, Op. 26 (1926), and they sound rather striking. But even superbly played as here by a crack line-up of New York Musicians – and, for the first time, up to Schoenberg’s terrifyingly fast metronome marks – its 38:20 timing prove arduous indeed to grasp as a whole. Yet the Chamber Symphony No. 2, begun in 1907 (though not completed until 1939), invoking late-Romantic modes of autumnal Adagio and boistrous Scherzo and using key signatures throughout, is almost as demanding, so subtly evasive is its chromatic harmony. Strangely, it is the astonishing atonal psychodrama Die glückliche Hand (1913), composed around the same time as ,i>Pierrot lunaire, that comes over most directly. Schoenberg wrote the scenario and text, designed costumes and setting and even prescribed the lighting for this expressionist-symbolic projection of artistic crisis, and its score teems with startlingly original sounds and textures. It cannot have been easy to record with its instant veerings between ear-splitting hysteria and pianissimo evanescence, yet Mark Beesley, the Simon Joly Chorale and the Philharmonia achieve a remarkable precision and bloom in this Abbey Road recording, while Robert Craft’s direction here, as in the Chamber Symphony, is more decisive and informed than ever. This Schoenberg series he is masterminding for Naxos goes from strength to strength. Bayan Northcott