WORKS: Pierrot lunaire; Erwartung
PERFORMER: Luisa Castellani, Alessandra Marc; Dresden Staatskapelle/Giuseppe Sinopoli
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-22901-2
Pierrot lunaire and Erwartung make a natural coupling. Both are masterpieces of Schoenberg’s atonal, expressionist phase and explore complementary sides of the same dramatic world, a moon-drenched evocation of hallucination, fear and derangement. They call for different vocal types, however, and Sinopoli wisely employs two singers, the Italian contemporary music specialist Luisa Castellani in Pierrot and the American dramatic soprano Alessandra Marc in Erwartung.
Marc doesn’t sound fully comfortable in the lower register of Schoenberg’s writing and her unvarying, somewhat adenoidal tone becomes wearing after a while. It’s a pity, because the Dresden Staatskapelle’s playing is wonderfully alive and the minute-by-minute changes of mood and pace suit Sinopoli’s talents. But there are rival versions with orchestral playing and direction to match, as well as singing that takes the monodrama into more vocally involving territory. Jessye Norman (with Levine on Philips) has the uncompromised vocal and dramatic range for the part and makes more of the words than Marc. But it is Phyllis Bryn-Julson on Rattle’s EMI recording who best encapsulates the woman’s vulnerability and, together with the confidence and luridness of the CBSO’s orchestral palette, hers has to be the preferred version.
In Pierrot, Castellani is up against the recent acclaimed recording from Christine Schäfer under Pierre Boulez’s direction. She arguably comes closer to the work’s cabaret spirit than Schäfer, but does not offer quite the same vocal and dramatic range, and the intimate recording balance occasionally buries her words in the instrumental textures. The playing and direction, though, are the equal of Boulez’s recording. Matthew Rye