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.
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.
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