Schoenberg: Pierrot lunaire; Chamber Symphony No. 1

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COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Pierrot lunaire; Chamber Symphony No. 1
PERFORMER: Phyllis Bryn-Julson (soprano); Ensemble Modern/Peter Eötvös
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61179 2 DDD
There can never be a perfect Pierrot; there are too many variables, of balance, style, of taste. Those for whom Pierrot is cabaret will go elsewhere; to those who regard it as a great song-cycle, this performance will give much delight. Remember, too, that Stravinsky praised it as a ‘great instrumental masterpiece’; an advantage here is that while the Sprechstimme is perfectly audible, the instruments come through with exemplary clarity. Bryn-Julson’s style is not quite to sing the vocal part; only Beardslee and Manning, in my memory, come as near to an accurate performance of the notes, so that the movement with flute only is for once a pitched duet. I was disturbed by expressive reliance on the immediate post-attack crescendo, and some chopping up of phrases contrary to verbal sense; also the voice is rather light for the nocturnal horrors of the second part, where she sounds rather too nice. But the nostalgia of Part III is well caught. In the Chamber Symphony the main tempo at first appears excessively breathtaking, but it works; the counterpoint is lucid and the lyrical sections have expressive warmth. Altogether a splendid account of this ebullient, life-affirming masterpiece. Julian Rushton