The little-known Second Chamber Symphony ought to be the most popular of Schoenberg’s later masterpieces. Neither “atonal” nor “twelve-tone”, it contrasts a lush, melodious, dramatic first movement with a rapid and richly polyphonic second movement.
Die glückliche Hand is a pantomime for two silent actors and one solo singer, “the Man”. The music is very compressed, and its two middle scenes, apart from the lines by the Man, are purely orchestral.
Realising that a work of 38 minutes in atonal idiom for five winds might be less audience-friendly than any of his music heretofore, Schoenberg imparted his Wind Quintet with a display of instrumental virtuosity that surpassed anything even he had ever attempted.
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Arnold Schoenberg: Chamber Symphony No. 2, Op. 38
II. Con fuoco
Arnold Schoenberg: Die gluckliche Hand, Op. 18
Scene 1: Still, o schweige
Scene 2: Ja, o ja! Das Bluhen, o Sehnsucht
Scene 3: Das kann man einfacher!
Scene 4: Musstest du's wieder erleben
Arnold Schoenberg: Wind Quintet, Op. 26
II. Anmutig und heiter: Scherzando
III. Etwas langsam (Poco adagio)
“Mark Beesley, the Simon Joly Chorale and the Philharmonic achieve a remarkable precision and bloom in this Abbey Road recording, while Robert Craft's direction… is more decisive and informed than ever.”
“Craft outshines them all”
“This eighth instalment of Robert Craft's Naxos cycle touches the polar opposites of Schoenberg's output. The radiant Chamber Symphony No 2 might be a beloved classic if Schoenberg hadn't so comprehensively queered his pitch elsewhere, while the Wind Quintet represents darkest deepest 'elsewhere', a work to challenge even the most devoted Schoenbergian. This magisterial recording of the Quintet from the New York Woodwind Quintet marks a new plateau in our understanding of the work. As Craft's notes testify, performances during Schoenberg's life were normally conducted and lasted around an hour. This lithe, quicksilver version clocks in at 38 minutes and, with the right tempi restored, Schoenberg's contrapuntal labyrinth sparks into life. Melodic motifs evolve and morph into new terrain with profound inevitability, while his harmonic daring and recherché timbres now feel holistically connected. The Chamber Symphony No 2 is another work where intellectual energy equates to a virtuoso instrumental showdown. The Philharmonia are fully engaged and Craft's fastidious approach makes every little detail count: but, as the cumulative impact of the second movement demonstrates, his ear is also focused on the larger picture. The 20-minute melodrama Die glücklicheHand sits in the stylistic overlap between Quintet and Symphony. Mark Beesley's small but anchoring role is powerfully executed, while Craft's artful unpicking of the prickly orchestral and choral writing places the listener at the core of Schoenberg's dream-world.”
29th June 2008
“Craft has been recording his way through Schoenberg’s oeuvre for Naxos, and this disc is a particularly enjoyable stage, though not all will agree. The quintet, Schoenberg’s first large-scale use of serialism, is often seen as just about his most refractory work. But, as Craft explains, this has much to do with the fact that the difficult score has tended to be taken disastrously slowly. Here, the relentless polyphony is crisp and dazzling. The experimental Die glückliche Hand drama is a sharp contrast to the quintet’s neoclassicism, and the two-movement symphony, with its beguiling rediscovery of tonality, different again.”
2nd May 2008
“All [works] are first-rate. Craft is at his most persuasive in the Chamber Symphony - a curious hangover from 1906, which Schoenberg only completed in 1939. By then, his music was utterly different, and if the weirdly symbolic Glückliche Hand ideally needs a more vividly analytical sound than here, it's a rarely recorded piece that is one of the masterpieces of his expressionist period. The Wind Quintet comes as the biggest surprise, though. In an unsympathetic performance, it can seem one of the driest of Schoenberg's 12-note pieces, but the New York Woodwind Quintet show that, with the proper treatment, it takes on a charm of its own.”
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.