Schoenberg: Pelleas und Melisande;Verklärte Nacht

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COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
WORKS: Pelleas und Melisande;Verklärte Nacht
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Orchestra/Giuseppe Sinopoli
Listening to Sinopoli’s Verklärte Nacht is an infuriating experience. With often lumbering tempi, he puts Schoenberg’s music on the rack, torturing every phrase into submission: this is not interpretative insight, this is wilful destruction. At almost the opposite extreme, Barenboim’s is a cooler reading – the Chicago strings sometimes seem to lack heart – but far more rewarding, though my preference overall remains for the Chamber Orchestra of Europe’s version, also on Teldec (reviewed last September).


Barenboim’s couplings move on ten years to some of Schoenberg’s first atonal works, the sets of pieces for piano and for orchestra. Here Barenboim features superbly as both pianist and conductor: the Op. 16 orchestral set is marvellously coloured and paced and Opp. 11 and 19 equally scrupulous in their attention to detail. Busoni’s ‘paraphrase’, also for piano, of Op. 11/2 makes a fascinating filler.


Sinopoli’s often over-analytical approach actually helps in Pelleas. Where the texture can sound turgid and bloated, here he achieves a revelatory clarity, with layers of sound audible that are usually just lost in the mêlée. Indeed, this is the first occasion that I have felt DG’s 4D recording technology to be more than simply techno-hype. I’m not so happy, however, about Sinopoli’s over-enthusiastic tempo fluctuations. Matthew Rye