Schoenberg: Das Buch der hängenden Gärten

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COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
LABELS: Black Box
WORKS: Das Buch der hängenden Gärten
PERFORMER: Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone), Iain Burnside (piano)
Bin Iain Burnside’s booklet notes: he makes some valid points, and the cod psychology may suit his super-cool manner on Radio 3, but in cold print it’s merely embarrassing. Then just listen to one of the finest discs of Schoenberg songs I’ve ever heard. It’s often forgotten that among Schoenberg’s earliest achievements was a large and increasingly original epilogue to the whole tradition of Austro-German song – forgotten because this repertoire is insufficiently often performed and recorded, and then seldom with such artistry and understanding.


Burnside is pretty well ideal in the way he brings out the polyphonic substance of the accompaniments, without ever making them feel heavy or overloaded (listen to the subtlety with which all the detail is integrated in the final verse of the great ballad ‘Jane Grey’). Both singers match him for warmth and intelligence: Williams, for instance, gives a simply ravishing account of ‘Traumleben’, while in the main work here – the cycle Das Buch der hängenden Gärten, which makes a haunted Symbolist coda to an entire century of Lieder-writing – Sarah Connolly expounds the vocal lines, as they range from near-recitative through arioso to brief post-Wagnerian outcries, with apparently infinite flexibility and great beauty of tone.


These artists should record Schoenberg’s entire remaining song output, including the 12-note Op. 48 and the many fascinating pre-Op. 1 Lieder. Black Box, take note. Calum MacDonald