Markus Stenz Conducts Arnold Schoenberg

With violinist Kolja Blacher and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

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COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
ALBUM TITLE: Markus Stenz Conducts Arnold Schoenberg
WORKS: Pelleas und Melisande; Violin Concerto
PERFORMER: Kolja Blacher (violin); Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/Markus Stenz


‘Enormously complicated’, was Mahler’s verdict on Schoenberg’s symphonic poem Pelleas und Melisande. Maybe a tactful way of saying ‘too complicated’. Poised between the luxurious richness of Gurrelieder and the hyper-inventive but tremendously exciting First Chamber Symphony, it often seems merely dense in comparison. But from this recording I’d guess that conductor Markus Stenz and the Oehms team have done a lot of work picking out leading voices and balancing the riotously profuse counterpoint. The result has a compelling narrative cohesion, offering a kind of paraphrase of the Pelleas opera Schoenberg planned but never carried out. In terms of colour and texture, too, it’s a feast. If it doesn’t ultimately emerge as a masterpiece to compare with the two mentioned above, it still stands as unique and un-ignorable. So too does the much later Violin Concerto. Here, for me, there’s a different problem. At times everything seems magnificently, grippingly in focus; at others, Schoenberg’s imagination and the self-imposed rigours of the 12-tone technique rub against each other uneasily. Part of the problem may lie in the performance. Kolja Blacher’s energetic conviction and commanding technical grasp of this hair-raisingly difficult solo part make the first few minutes of the first movement and great stretches of the finale terrifically exciting. But mystery, delicacy and transparency don’t seem to come to him quite so readily. Often he just seems to me too loud or too eager to get on, as in the exquisite long melody that begins the slow movement. Certainly the uneven final impression isn’t all Schoenberg’s fault. Stephen Johnson