Schoenberg: Cello Concerto (after Monn); Chamber Symphony No. 2; Piano Concerto; Die glückliche Hand

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COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
WORKS: Cello Concerto (after Monn); Chamber Symphony No. 2; Piano Concerto; Die glückliche Hand
PERFORMER: Fred Sherry (cello), Christopher Oldfather (piano), Mark Beesley (bass); Simon Joly Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra/Robert Craft
CATALOGUE NO: 3-7475-2
There are few recordings of Schoenberg’s quasi-autobiographical multimedia Expressionist drama Die glückliche Hand (which Hans Keller used to translate as The Knack). Yet the Cello Concerto he wrote for Casals (who never played it in public), a completely tonal recomposition of a harpsichord concerto by the 18th-century GM Monn, is even more of a rarity. This delightful, ultra-melodious work, an inspired miracle of inauthenticity, has suffered from being a jeu d’esprit and at the same time one of the most difficult pieces in the cello repertoire. Fred Sherry proves the equal of every one of its prestidigitational witticisms, while Christopher Oldfather projects the solo part of the Piano Concerto with understanding and refinement. There are, at least, plenty of rivals in the Piano Concerto and Second Chamber Symphony, but the versions on this disc are among the best currently available. Craft has known all four pieces most of his lifetime, and expounds them with precision and affection. Orchestra and singers must have been very well rehearsed. Time and again Craft’s attention to telling detail and his concern for textural clarity give the impression that these performances approach a Schoenbergian ideal. Though difficult for the performers, in accounts as good as these none of the works is hard for listeners to understand: one marvels afresh, instead, at the sheer richness and rightness of Schoenberg’s invention in every bar. Calum MacDonald