Schoenberg, Brahms

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COMPOSERS: Brahms,Schoenberg
LABELS: Koch
WORKS: Violin Concerto
PERFORMER: Rolf Schulte (violin); Philharmonia Orchestra/Robert Craft
CATALOGUE NO: 3-7493-2
Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto is not at all well served in the UK catalogue at present. Indeed, the current generally available alternative seems to consist solely of Pierre Amoyal’s absorbing and highly detailed 15-year-old account with the LSO under Boulez, on a ridiculously inexpensive two-disc set from Erato; though a live recording with its first soloist, the ‘six-fingered’ Louis Krasner, and Dmitri Mitropoulos (the conductor of the third live performance) from Orfeo may still be found.

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In this, the fourth volume of Robert Craft’s ongoing Schoenberg series for Koch, the soloist is the thoroughly dependable Rolf Schulte (about whom we learn nothing from the booklet notes, though room is found for lengthy panegyrics to both Robert Craft and the Philharmonia Orchestra). He certainly proves the equal of Amoyal and also of Zvi Zeitlin (with Kubelík on a sadly deleted DG disc); but the new reading, as a whole, lacks the strong narrative thrust of the Amoyal/Boulez and the polish and precision of the well-drilled LSO players.

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Choice then must rest with one’s preferred coupling. The Amoyal comes with the Piano Concerto, authoritatively delivered by Peter Serkin, and, on the second disc, sharply etched accounts of Pelleas und Melisande and the Op. 31 Variations for Orchestra with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Craft offers a fluent reading of Schoenberg’s skilful, but unnecessary, orchestration of Brahms’s Op. 25 Piano Quartet, an essay – in the last movement, at least – owing more to the saccharine confections of Stokowski than the surgical precision of his pupil Webern’s insightful transcriptions. Antony Bye