Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht; Chamber Symphony No. 2; Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene

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COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Verklärte Nacht; Chamber Symphony No. 2; Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene
PERFORMER: CO of Europe/ Heinz Holliger
CATALOGUE NO: 9031-77314-2 DDD
Another winner from the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Its performance of Schoenberg’s lush Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), his symphonic poem about a man’s acceptance of his lover’s pregnancy by another man, reveals some of the most beautiful string playing on disc (just listen to the cellos in the big central, Dvorák-like tune depicting, in Schoenberg’s words, ‘a man whose magnanimity is as sublime as his love’).

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I usually prefer the intimacy of the original string sextet version (1899), but this account is a telling advocate for the 1943 string orchestration. Here, there is a chamber music unanimity of voice, yet the sound is big, suggesting the string section of a large symphony orchestra more than the 32 players listed in the booklet. Unexpectedly for a modern-music specialist, Heinz Holliger’s interpretation is on a Wagnerian scale, making the most of the work’s late-Romantic opulence and expressive to an almost painfully poignant degree. The couplings are equally finely drawn, with the dramatic Incidental Music for an Imaginary Film Scene and the rarely performed Second Chamber Symphony (not a patch on No. 1, but a superbly crafted work nonetheless).

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The Kremlin Chamber Orchestra’s Verklärte Nacht inevitably pales in comparison. Playing and sound are stolid rather than visionary, and, despite technical finesse, the performance lacks atmosphere and dramatic impetus. The generous couplings are more successful, with a heady Metamorphosen and early and mature Webern played with great sensitivity. Matthew Rye