Schoenberg: Pierrot lunaire; Herzgewächse; Ode to Napoleon

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COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Pierrot lunaire; Herzgewächse; Ode to Napoleon
PERFORMER: Christine Schäfer (soprano), David Pittman-Jennings (baritone); Ensemble InterContemporain/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: 457 630-2
Christine Schäfer’s second recording for DG brings to the catalogue a welcome new version of Pierrot lunaire – Boulez’s second and a marked contrast with his 1977 account, still available on Sony. For that earlier recording Boulez had a fine team of soloists, including Pinchas Zukerman, Lynn Harrell and Daniel Barenboim, no less. The soloists on the new recording are less starry names – members of the Ensemble InterContemporain – but hardly inferior.

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The main differences between the two recordings lie in the reading of the Sprechstimme part. Where Yvonne Minton on Sony adhered closely to the printed line, Schäfer takes a far more liberal view, following the general contours but allowing the expressionist moods to generate greater extremes of pitch. Schoenberg’s own wishes are not beyond dispute, but he certainly warned against too precise adherence to the written line.

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Schäfer’s approach offers a greater sense of fantasy and makes Pierrot sound more demented, without losing the essentially satirical quality in the first group of seven songs. Minton’s mezzo is weightier, stronger in the lower range and sharply articulated. For me, Minton is not displaced by the newcomer, though Schäfer’s rendering is no less impressive in its own way. Her light soprano is unarguably suited to the stratospheric tessitura of Herzgewächse, Schoenberg’s short Maeterlinck setting. The final work is the later Ode to Napoleon, with David Pittman-Jennings dispatching Byron’s scorn in style.