Schoenberg: Suite in G; Chamber Symphony No. 2; Theme and Variations

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COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
LABELS: Decca Entartete Musik
WORKS: Suite in G; Chamber Symphony No. 2; Theme and Variations
PERFORMER: Deutsches SO Berlin, Berlin RSO/John Mauceri
CATALOGUE NO: 448 619-2
If art is news that stays news, then the late tonal pieces from Schoenberg’s American exile might seem to be somewhat artless. ‘Serialist pioneer returns to G major’ makes a good headline, but in fifty years the Suite in G for Strings, Chamber Symphony No. 2 and the Theme and Variations have registered feebly on the cultural Richter scale. Compare the shock waves caused by another, slightly later slogan: ‘neo-classical Russian master turns to 12-note music.’

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Of course, Schoenberg never meant these pieces to stand equally by his serial masterpieces. Orchestral Cinderellas now faithfully restored on Decca’s Entartete Musik label, they were borne of financial hardship. Two of these scores were written for students. The composer took up the unfinished torso of this Chamber Symphony as an act of nostalgia. Yet, as he himself said of Mahler, nothing a great artist does is uninteresting. While Mauceri’s measured account of the symphony yields some vintage early Schoenberg, the Suite, especially, is a tempting mixture of archaic tonality seething in the juice of expressionism. The angular lines of the Adagio and Gigue make for bracing listening. The Menuet and Gavotte trip through textures that in 1935 made Klemperer ‘sweat blood’ at the first performance.

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This orchestral version of the Theme and Variations, is splendidly uncomplicated. In a perfect world it would be standard repertoire, but at least it’s here to treasure. Performances of all works are excellent. Recorded sound is good, save for a distant and unresonant sound in the Suite.