Schoenberg: Pelleas und Melisande;Verklärte Nacht

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Pelleas und Melisande;Verklärte Nacht
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Orchestra/Giuseppe Sinopoli
CATALOGUE NO: 439 942-2 DDD
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).

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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.

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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