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Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire Op 21; Berio / Opus21musikplus, Gourzi, Et Al

Schonberg / Doufexis / Baptist / Jouard / Sehrer
Release Date: 03/25/2008 
Label:  Neos   Catalog #: 10709   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Arnold SchoenbergMaria BaptistLuciano Berio
Performer:  Stella DoufexisMaria Baptist
Conductor:  Kostantia GourziKonstantia Gourzi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Opus21musikplus
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHOENBERG Pierrot lunaire. 1 Improvised Jazz Interludes. 2 BERIO Folk Songs 3 Stella Doufexis (spkr, 1 mez 3 ); Konstantia Gourzi, cond; 1,3 opus21musikplus; 1,3 Maria Baptist Read more (pn) 1,2 NEOS 10709 (69:20 Text and Translation)

According to conductor Gourzi, the raison d’etre for this disc is: “Initially, however, I had a problem with Pierrot : the dense progress of the composition seemed too intense for me. Between the three parts I needed time—a pause for breath, a ‘distraction’—in order to really hear the next part.”

Whether or not you agree (I do not: Schoenberg wanted that pileup of density, as indicated by his not writing interludes between the sections), this is what we get here: part I (seven songs), 4:36 of piano improvisations; part II (seven songs), 4:13 of improvisations; part III (seven songs). At least this is preferable to a CD reviewed in a previous issue, on which only nine of the songs appeared, scattered throughout the disc. Pierrot is followed by the 11 Berio folk songs, played and sung without interruption. One can, of course, program out the interludes, or hear them separately. I have avoided writing “jazz interludes” because they sound classical to me—at least Gershwinesque, occasionally even Debussian. They may be improvisations, but they were developed after much study, as the pianist learned to play the Schoenberg score.

Valery Gergiev, rehearsing Le sacre du printemps , exhorted London Symphony musicians to “forget you know the piece.” Has Pierrot lunaire , like Le sacre , become too familiar, too easy for performers and listeners today? Schoenberg’s once-frightening work now projects wildly colorful, almost sweet beauty; perhaps it is those jazz interludes after all. With or without them, this is a very civilized performance, somehow Gallic despite its German language. We are in Paris, not Vienna or Berlin. The conductor’s remarks suggest that this is her preference, but the vocal line agrees. Doufexis is listed as speaker for Pierrot , but she has such a mellifluous voice that it comes across as singing more than speaking. Neither she nor the instrumentalists emits any great yaps or squawks; no, squawks are certainly taboo; it is unlikely that anyone would be outraged by the piece as heard here. I prodded a fellow listener, who was bored rather than upset. But I loved it. No two performances of Pierrot lunaire are alike; there is so much to it, so many ways to do it. I can’t ever discard a recording, as each one has something unique to offer. This time it’s sweetness and light.

Berio’s 11 folk-song settings for voice and seven instruments (flute, clarinet, viola, cello, harp, and two percussionists) have become a classic. There must be a dozen recordings by now, beginning with those of Cathy Berberian, who participated in their creation. My recent favorite has been by Dawn Upshaw, on her celebrated “Ayre” disc. Upshaw gives a rather formal presentation, as if in a Lieder recital, with fully rounded tones and carefully enunciated words (she was more vivacious in a recent live performance). Doufexis sings more naturally, as if in more casual setting—one visualizes Upshaw on stage in a floor-length gown, Doufexis in a café, in a skirt and blouse. The accompanists on this disc are also more relaxed than Upshaw’s musicians. Both ways work beautifully; for the moment, I incline toward Doufexis, perhaps because her voice reminds me of Victoria de los Angeles’s beautiful instrument (one of Berio’s settings was also set by Canteloube and recorded by de los Angeles). There are many reasons for the success of Berio’s settings: he picked beautiful songs, and he set them simply if elegantly—and always appropriately. The variety of cultures and languages represented adds to their fascination.

A 32-page booklet includes song texts in the sung language: German for Pierrot lunaire ; English, Armenian, French, Italian, an Auvergne dialect, an Azerbaijani dialect, and Russian for the folk songs. A note in the booklet to Upshaw’s recording tells us that the Azerbaijan love song “was transcribed from an old shellac recording by Cathy Berberian, who had no idea what the words meant.” Fine recorded sound enhances a marvelous disc.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 by Arnold Schoenberg
Performer:  Stella Doufexis ()
Conductor:  Kostantia Gourzi,  Konstantia Gourzi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Opus21musikplus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1912; Vienna, Austria 
Jazz Interlude No. 1, for piano (for performance with Schönberg's Pierrot lunaire) by Maria Baptist
Performer:  Maria Baptist (Piano)
Venue:  Bayerischer Rundfunk, Studio 2, Munich, 
Length: 4 Minutes 36 Secs. 
Jazz Interlude No. 2, for piano (for performance with Schönberg's Pierrot lunaire) by Maria Baptist
Performer:  Maria Baptist (Piano)
Venue:  Bayerischer Rundfunk, Studio 2, Munich, 
Length: 4 Minutes 13 Secs. 
Folk Songs for Mezzo Soprano, Flute, Clarinet, Viola, Cello, Harp and Percussion by Luciano Berio
Performer:  Stella Doufexis ()
Conductor:  Konstantia Gourzi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Opus21musikplus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1964/1973 
Venue:  Bayerischer Rundfunk, Studio 2, Munich, 
Length: 21 Minutes 37 Secs. 

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