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Monday, August 28, 2017

Arnold Schoenberg - Verklärte Nacht; Chamber Symphony No. 2 (Heinz Holliger)


Composer: Arnold Schoenberg; Anton Webern
  1. Schoenberg - Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4
  2. Schoenberg - Chamber Symphony No. 2, Op. 38: I. Adagio
  3. Schoenberg - Chamber Symphony No. 2, Op. 38: II. Con fuoco
  4. Webern - Langsamer Satz

Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne
Heinz Holliger, conductor

Date: 2013
Label: Zig-Zag Territoires


Heinz Holliger’s second recording of the 1943 string orchestra version of Arnold Schoenberg’s 1917 Verklärte Nacht (originally for string sextet) is one of the most beautiful performances of the work around. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on whether you sees Schoenberg’s late-Romantic masterpiece as an Expressionistic or Impressionistic work. Most recorded performances take the former approach: Boulez’s (Sony) militantly unsentimental but grippingly dramatic; Mitropolous’s earlier New York version (Japanese Sony, OP) urgent and vivid, his later Vienna version (Music & Arts) overwhelming in its anguish and release; Barenboim’s (Teldec) bleaker and grittier; Stokowski’s (EMI) voluptuous; Karajan’s (DG) polished but intense. They all confront the listener with the crisis in Richard Dehmel’s hyper-sentimental poem: the dilemma of the beleaguered couple and the stark chill of that moonlit grove. The Tristanesque melodic lines are molded, driven forward, or sometimes suspended breathlessly, to let the listener experience the disquiet, the pain, the guilt, the fearful anticipation, and the nobility of compassion. When the night is transfigured, you feel the relief because you have confronted the darkness and emerged from it forgiven.

Holliger’s traversal is not devoid of these qualities, but is more suggestive of the emotions than immersed in them. To say that he offers detached contemplation of the anguish and release would be going too far, but the softness of attack, the unvarying warmth of the string tone, and the relatively relaxed and steady tempos mitigate emotional concentration. As I said, it is beautiful, if that is what you want. And it is the slowest performance of the score since Levi’s (Telarc) left the catalog—he was similarly intent on a rather misty loveliness—slower, as well, than Holliger’s own 1990 performance on Teldec. That earlier performance at least has a stronger dramatic profile, though it can seem similarly unruffled at times.

The other two works are more successful, even where the approach is similar, as neither must carry a narrative. The Chamber Symphony No. 2 was begun in 1906 by the 32-year old Schoenberg, but not completed until 33 years later, after earlier attempts (made prior to the composition of Verklärte Nacht ) led to an impasse. What transpired in the intervening years changed musical history, but Schoenberg, dislocated as he was in the unfamiliar environs of Los Angeles after fleeing Nazi Germany, felt a nostalgic desire to return to the stylistic world of his youth. The revised and completed piece is not, however, untouched by the revolution that went before, and performances should reflect that. Holliger’s does, in a soft-cored way, though ideally a bit more time could be taken with the Adagio movement, and the Con Fuoco could be fierier. Boulez (Sony), who predictably acknowledges more of the modern , chooses ideal tempos. Fine as Holliger’s performance is, the French conductor’s is preferable.

Anton Webern’s 1905 Langsamer Satz (Slow Movement) is the best fit for Holliger’s congenial approach and the refined Lausanne string sound. A student work for a string quartet that was never completed, written in the throes of an ecstatically happy romance, it is uncloudedly Brahmsian in spirit. First performed in 1962, it is most naturally the province of the quartet, but has been transcribed for string orchestra on several occasions. Whose transcription this is, is not clear. The performance is easily the best of those few available on disc.

Zig Zag Territoires’ engineering—in a first recording of this orchestra and their conductor—is up to the label’s usual high standards. There are excellent notes, but the smallish gray type is hard to read in all but the best light. Otherwise, kudos for lovely playing and presentation.

-- Ronald E. Grames, FANFARE

More reviews:


Arnold Schoenberg (13 September 1874 – 13 July 1951) was an Austrian composer, leader of the Second Viennese School. Schoenberg was known early in his career for simultaneously extending the traditionally opposed German Romantic styles of Brahms and Wagner. Later, his name would come to personify innovations in atonality that would become the most polemical feature of 20th-century art music. In the 1920s, Schoenberg developed the twelve-tone technique, an influential compositional method of manipulating an ordered series of all twelve notes in the chromatic scale.


Heinz Holliger (born 21 May 1939 in Langenthal, Switzerland) is a Swiss oboist, composer and conductor. He began his musical education at the conservatories of Bern and Basel, studying composition with Sándor Veress and Pierre Boulez. Since the International Competition in Geneva in 1959 where he was awarded first prize for oboe, Holliger has become one of the world's most celebrated oboists, and many composers have written works for him. Holliger has also composed many works in a variety of media. Many of his works have been recorded for the ECM label.


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