This CD joins two very different works of Schoenberg, both from before he started writing his 12-tone works.
The Brettl-Lieder were written early in his career (though after Verklaerte Nacht), while he was working with a cabaret company. The songs are light, humorous, stylized, arch, and rather unlike what you expect to hear from Schoenberg. The first seven are for piano and voice, but the last adds piccolo, trumpet, and snare drum. Jesse Norman does a great job with these. Although these songs are well-suited to lighter voices than Jesse's, she scales her voice down and digs into the cabaret style.
Of course, the major work here is Erwartung, written a few years later. This "monodrama" is a one-act opera for a singer and orchestra. The story is of a woman wandering through a moonlit forest looking for her lover who has not arrived at her house (and who may be with another woman). She is frightened, jealous, perhaps mad, and the story must be interpreted from the fleeting thoughts she vocalizes. She stumbles across a heavy object in the darkness. Is it his body? Is he dead? Did she kill him?
Jesse is wonderful in this role. Before this recording, she had performed the opera at the Metropolitan Opera, conducted by James Levine. It was paired with Bartok's one-act Bluebeard's Castle (with Sam Ramey). The operas were broadcast on PBS, which was a bold move away from Boheme and Carmen.
Jesse Norman and James Levine play up the late Romanticism in this early Expressionist work. Schoenberg's music illustrates both the spooky, moonlit wood and the woman's unhinged, wandering thoughts. These artists capture this perfectly.