Schoenberg: Chamber Symphony No. 2; Accompaniment to a Film Scene; Verklärte Nacht

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COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Chamber Symphony No. 2; Accompaniment to a Film Scene; Verklärte Nacht
PERFORMER: Ulster Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554371
As an example of Naxos’s daring these days, for only its second disc of Schoenberg, it has headed for the Second Chamber Symphony – a work begun in 1906 but not completed until 1939 – rather than the familiar First. Like Gurrelieder, which was part-orchestrated after Schoenberg’s style had moved on from his late-Romantic phase, so the Second Chamber Symphony bears the mark of those missing 33 years in its combination of chromaticism and more acerbic dynamism. The Ulster Orchestra gives a vibrant performance of the work, though with forces that perhaps sound too large to justify the ‘chamber’ label.

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In 1929 Schoenberg paid tribute to the arrival of the talkies with his own score for a hypothetical film. It’s a nod back to the programmatic music of his early years, with its three movements depicting ‘threatening danger’, ‘fear’ and ‘catastrophe’. Again, the playing gives the work a good run for its money.

Verklärte Nacht needs a really top-notch string ensemble to bring out all its late-Romantic ardour. Despite the obvious dedication Yuasa draws from his players, the Ulster strings leave something to be desired in terms of accuracy of ensemble and sheer warmth of tone.

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Coincidentally, the same combination of works graced a 1994 Teldec disc from the Chamber Orchestra of Europe under Heinz Holliger, currently out of the catalogue, but a strong benchmark contender were it to return. In the meantime, a more lustrous account of Verklärte Nacht can be found on the same label’s Schoenberg disc from Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony, though at full price. Matthew Rye