Schoenberg: Piano Concerto; Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9; Chamber Symphony No. 2, Op. 38

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Piano Concerto; Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9; Chamber Symphony No. 2, Op. 38
PERFORMER: Alfred Brendel (piano); SWF SO, Baden-Baden/Michael Gielen
This is the best of three recent recordings of the Piano Concerto, a piece which Alfred Brendel has by now made very much his own. It helps, of course, to have an accomplished Schoenberg conductor like Gielen at the helm. Between them they make the most of the blend of post-Brahmsian expression and neo-classicism which characterises perhaps the most enjoyable product of the composer’s later years. The sound is not without abrasiveness; but it would be a mistake to soften Schoenberg too much, and the contrast with the tonal chamber symphonies is itself effective. The performance of Op. 9 is a good rival to the others available, perhaps the best in moulding tempo-changes so that the sections merge almost seamlessly – if at some cost to the warmth of the slow movement. This is the most convincing performance of the problematic Second Chamber Symphony I have heard. It usually collapses after the intense first movement (composed shortly after Op. 9 but wearing the instrumental colours of thirty years later); the almost forced jollity of the second movement here acts as a perfect foil to a marvellously expressive coda. It now seems a better piece than I had thought. Highly recommended. Julian Rushton