All products and recordings are chosen independently by our editorial team. This review contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made. Please read our affiliates FAQ page to find out more.

Schoenberg: Pelleas und Melisande; Erwartung

Sara Jakubiak (soprano); Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Edward Gardner (Chandos)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Pelleas und Melisande, Op. 5; Erwartung, Op. 17*
Sara Jakubiak (soprano)*; Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Edward Gardner
Chandos CHSA 5198   67:36 mins


Two years after completing his radiant early sextet Verklärte Nacht, Schoenberg was encouraged by Richard Strauss to write a symphonic poem on Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas et Mélisande, completing the massive 40-minute score in 1903 and conducting its premiere in 1905. While still just about adhering to key signatures, the music sweeps a chromatic counterpoint of Wagnerian leitmotivs though a wave-like sequence of often thickly scored textures. Edward Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic are little more successful than previous performers in defining every teeming inner part of the more complex passages, but offer a finely characterised account of a work of awesomely emergent mastery.

By 1909, tonality, thematic ideas and formal boundaries were all abandoned. In his half-hour monodrama Erwartung (Expectation), as his hysterical soprano protagonist searches a moonlit forest for her lover, whose dead body she eventually stumbles across, the music unfolds in a hallucinatory stream of consciousness of iridescent detail and nervy frissons, the scoring shifting in density and colour by the second. Sara Jakubiak is impressively accurate in the fiendishly chromatic soprano role and Gardner and his orchestra respond with sensitised volatility, though some of the more delicate high string writing seems to evaporate in the resonance of Bergen’s Grieghallen. Simon Rattle’s marginally clearer CBSO recording of 1995 with the plangent Phyllis Bryn-Julson remains the benchmark here – but only just.


Bayan Northcott.