Schoenberg: Moses und Aron

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COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
LABELS: Hannsler
ALBUM TITLE: Schoenberg: Moses und Aron
WORKS: Moses und Aron
PERFORMER: Franz Grundheber, Andreas Conrad, Johanna Winkel, Katharina Persicke, Elvira Bill, Nora Petrochenko, Jean-Noel Briend, Friedemann Röhlig, Andreas Wolf; EuropaChorAkademie; SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg/Sylvain Cambreling


Composed to his own libretto between 1930-32, Schoenberg’s largest 12-tone project, Moses und Aron, remained unfinished, but is complete in that it presents an unresolvable question: how can transcendental experience be conveyed to those who have never experienced it, except via images which betray the very essence of that experience? Schoenberg’s Moses, who communes with God, cannot sing; he can only utter in a kind of musicalised speech. His brother Aron, a lyric tenor, has the task of selling the image of God to the People embodied in a series of powerful choruses. The score is formidably complex and intense in expression, yet, paradoxically, full of memorable sonorous images, from the incandescent Burning Bush music, via the almost Cecil B DeMille Dance round the Golden Calf, to the desolation of the end where the despairing Moses cries ‘O Word, thou Word that I lack!’ to a single rearing and plunging line for the violins.


Alas, this latest version will not quite do. Sylvain Cambreling captures the sweep of the thing in a broad-brush way, and he has a decent Moses in Franz Grundheber and an enthusiastic chorus; but Andreas Conrad’s heroic tenor lacks the seductiveness for a convincing Aron. The edit, apparently patched together from performances in four different venues, tends to fuzziness and shifts of perspective in which much of Schoenberg’s teeming orchestral detail gets lost. Better to return to Michael Gielen’s version reissued on Brilliant Classics. Boxy though the 1972 recording may sound, the reading is fiercely convincing and one hears almost everything. Bayan Northcott