Notes and Editorial Reviews
Chamber Symphony No. 1
Juan García Rodríguez, cond; Zahir Ens
NAXOS 8.572442 (56:52)
The op. 29 Suite is one of Schoenberg’s lightest and most delightful pieces. Scored for two clarinets plus bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and piano, it was written as a wedding present for his new wife, Gertrud, in the mid 1920s. Filled with
references to popular music of the era—a commentator for an earlier recording noted that it “sounds like highly intellectual, utterly Teutonic jazz”—one could listen happily through its 34 minutes without noticing that it is almost entirely a serial, 12-tone work. Schoenberg was uniquely clever in drawing together seemingly incompatible forms; these four movements resemble a symphony, although the opening sonata-form lacks a development section. A polka-like Scherzo is followed by a slow, gentle Theme and Variations and a Gigue.
There have been a good many recordings of the Suite, but most have disappeared from the catalog. There remain fine ones by Pierre Boulez and Robert Craft, but my favorite has been a 1970s recording played by members of the London Sinfonietta, led by David Atherton, on a Decca disc. This performance by a Spanish ensemble puts them all to shame, with its brilliance, grace, and humor. All of which is aided by a startlingly vivid recording.
Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony strikes me as a perfect work of art, going well beyond its revolutionary form, structure, and instrumentation. It all
, and the one-instrument-to-a-part scoring is but one aspect of its success. The melodies grab a listener from the opening bar, and their working-out is continually fascinating. One wishes that the world had let it alone, that the composer and his friends had not felt a need to contract and expand it, down to a trio and up to a symphony orchestra. Was it so difficult to find 15 musicians for those early Vienna performances? That said, Webern’s quintet works as well as anything but the original; it is best at capturing the calm but luxurious—even romantic—effusions of the (untitled) slow movement. This ensemble (Alfonso Rubio, flute; Javier Trigos, clarinet; Joan Espina, violin; Dieter Nel, cello; Juan García Rodríguez, piano) does it proud. I’ve played this CD three times now, and I’ve been glowing and smiling broadly the whole time. What an enjoyable disc!
FANFARE: James H. North
A great deal of enthusiasm can be heard in these Schoenberg performances. The more familiar Chamber Symphony No. 1, in Anton Webern's arrangement for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano moves the music from the spiky and bright original chamber ensemble scoring to a more intimate setting that often sounds downright Romantic. The musicians of the Zahir Ensemble also impart an emotional expression that seems to repress the frantic compression of motives found in other performances yet without slackening the tempo. The result is an intimate late-romantic tone poem and most effective. The horn part being taken in Webern's arrangement by cello and at times piano, produces a different and softer psychological effect, yet the notes are the same. A remarkable performance.
The Suite, Op. 29 scored for septet and said to be influenced by 1920s dance music, seems more under the structural spell of Baroque dance suites. This piece is quite engaging, so-called "atonal" Schoenberg in the 12 tone technique and actually great fun. Wild and harsh yet strangely lyrical, the Suite is aided by the fact the the forms that make it up are so clear-cut: Overture, Tanzschritte, Thema mit Variationen and Gigue. Again the Zahir Ensemble led by Juan García Rodríguez play this music with great exuberance. Loaded with rhythmic vitality within old dance forms including Austrian landler, the suite utilizes the piano as a go-between, coordinating the dialog of wind instruments vs. the strings. The consistency of sonorities, rhythms and pitches are such that the listener, despite the unusual overall sound of the music will find the effect much like looking at a cubist painting depicting recognizable objects, (in this case Austrian dance forms, melody and accompaniment passages, sonata and rondo forms,) seen as shapes and colors on their own and organized in a wonderfully jumbled and sometimes pleasant, sometimes nightmarish way. A great musical adventure, well played.
- Greg La Traille,
Works on This Recording
Suite, Op. 29 by Arnold Schoenberg
Juan Garcia Rodriguez
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1925-1926; Berlin, Germany
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