WORKS: A Survivor from Warsaw; Five Pieces for Orchestra; Serenade; Accompani- ment to a Cinematographic Scene; Herzgewächse
PERFORMER: Simon Callow (narrator), Eileen Hulse (soprano), Stephen Varcoe (baritone)London Voices, LSO, 20th-Century Classics Ensemble/Robert Craft
CATALOGUE NO: 3-7263-2 DDD
This disc contains some of Schoenberg’s most immediately gripping music and, provided your ears can cope without the crutch of a key-centre, some of his loveliest. Back in the Sixties, admiration for Robert Craft’s enterprise in recording works of Webern, Schoenberg, Boulez and others was tempered by recognition that the performances were somewhat crude; these versions are far superior in the handling of colour and tempo. There is too little of Viennese grace in the Serenade, although Varcoe sings the Petrarch sonnet most engagingly and the brittle neo-classical textures are as delightful as ever.
The more impressionistic orchestral pieces incline to the clinical, but fierce accuracy is appropriate in the fourth piece of Op. 16 and in the later works, the neglected but evocative ‘Film scene’, which comes over as a major symphonic statement, and the Survivor from Warsaw. Here Simon Callow, the speaker, begins with English understatement which is a springboard for an enthralling climax. Herzgewächse lacks its intended sensuousness, its texture over-dominated by a sighing harmonium. Eileen Hulse copes nobly with its vertiginous soprano line, but the top F, as usual, is more surprising than expressive. Did Schoenberg really expect an adequate performance? Julian Rushton