This stupendous performance of "Verklärte Nacht" became instantly even more attractive when it was re-released on DG Originals coupled this time with the "Pelleas und Melisande" symphonic poem rather than the "Variations", which remains unapproachable for most music-lovers - including me - whereas I love pre-twelve-tone Schoenberg. They make a much more obvious and natural pairing, too, being written within three years of each other, although the 1899 Opus 4 work so clearly still belongs within the Romantic camp and the 1902/3 Opus 5 marks the advent of a new voice - if not the more challenging Schoenberg of later years - with its emphasis on individual instrumental voices rather than the blanket of chromatic sound which enwraps you in "Verklärte Nacht".
Schoenberg, von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic are all three here at their most alluring; this is later Karajan at his best in a period which also produced such beautiful recordings as his "Madama Butterfly" - by no means all mid-70's Karajan was mannered and self-conscious. The music suits perfectly the silky virtuosity of the orchestra and the sound is of demonstration quality for its age (the merest tape hiss). Karajan brings overwhelming passion and intensity to those thrilling climaxes when the strings in unison sing out their hymn of forgiveness under a starlit winter sky. I know no music like for its sense of soaring ecstasy and coruscating tenderness. I enjoy the "Pelleas" which is very much on the cusp of the sea-change which Schoenberg effected in his style, with one foot in each century, so to speak. I do not pretend to adore it as I do the first work, but it is sweeping, surging, programmatic music well suited to the tragic tale it portrays but a little too fragmented and episodic to my ears, as if Schoenberg is trying to pack too much into limited space.
Bearing in mind that the original Opus 4 was composed for string sextet, I also recommend that anyone who loves this piece should own the wonderful 1950 recording made by the augmented Hollywood String Quartet in clean mono (coupled with a superb Schubert String Quintet).
This is no doubt one of the finest Karajan recordings and I haven't come across more intensely beautiful and inspired rendition of Verklärte Nacht yet. The colour, the atmosphere, the richness and the sublimity of the music Karajan manages to draw from the orchestra are simply awe-inspiring. Must-buy for any serious collecters!
on 5 October 2003
You will find on this CD a performance of Schoenberg's Pelleas & Melisande which is as seductively pleasing as any on record - but the single most persuasive argument for buying this disc is the truly glorious performance of Verklarte Nacht, or Transfigured Night. I first heard the work over twenty five years ago and it was love upon first hearing. The work was created in response to Richard Dehmel's lovely poem (included in the sleeve notes) and was originally conceived as a work for string quartet. No quartet performance has ever managed however to convince me that this was ever meant to be anything less than a piece for full string orchestra; it simply doesn't realise its potential in so sparse an ensemble. Over the years I have listened to numerous performances; some are very well performed but poorly served in the studio; others have brilliantly clear recordings but lack the inner fire and passion needed to fully ignite the experience. Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic conjured up one of the very finest and most memorable recordings of all in this version - lush, uncompromisingly romantic, poignant, wistful, lavishly and heart-stoppingly beautiful. When you hear this it is not hard to understand Mahler's interest in the young Schoenberg, who held such obvious promise. Perhaps Schoenberg's descent into the abyss of twelve-tone music soon after this high spot indicated that this was a work impossible to follow in traditional terms? Who knows? What is certain is there are few more hauntingly lovely and extravagantly romantic scores in existence. And this, in spite of the most minor flaws in its recording, is and will undoubtedly remain one of the greatest performances of this extraordinary work on record. To listen is to partake in a genuinely spiritual experience which leaves one both drained and edified upon its conclusion. There is incandescent beauty here of the kind that makes you hold your breath, a shimmering, achingly lovely, transcendent joyfulness mingled with and exquisite bittersweetness that few works can match in intensity of expression. This is not the most lucid, detailed recording in purely technical terms, but that is of very little consequence here, for this is music-making at its very best, when everything comes together to serve the composer's intentions perhaps better than he might ever have wished. You'll not be likely to want to hear the quartet version again after this. Wholeheartedly and unreservedly recommended.
on 22 October 2011
I concentrate my review on Verklärte Nachte (Transfigured Night), because I am familiar with the piece and have other recordings. It is a sublime, intense work based on a poem describing how a women confesses to her new lover that she is bearing the child of another man, and how the night is transfigured when the man forgives her and accepts the situation.
The music reflects the tension in the build up to the confession in Schoenberg's characteristically dissonant style, and the harmony which follows the acceptance. Karajan was a master of tension and release, and with the strings of the Berlin Philharmonic succeeds in producing the best ever recording of this work.
I enjoyed Pelleas and Melisande enormously, a longer piece, although with less intensity than Verklärte Nachte.
As a listener relatively new to the late Viennese master,Schoenberg,I can only give what for some must be a rather underpowered review of this disc.Even, so I'd like to venture that if you enjoy Strauss,Mahler,Bartok and Webern then the music contained on this set will prove to be well worth getting to know. There is an intensity, richness of expression and depth of feeling emanating from both works that is almost overpowering,almost to the extent almost of being draining.There is no doubt that 'Transfigured Night' requires your complete attention,not only because of the immensity of the orchestral forces at play but also because of inherent drama and tension of the work- sufficient that it simply can not be ignored.You have no choice but to get involved!
Yet there is melody along with the tumultuous swoops and soaring of the music-allowing even the novice a way to gain a foothold on the immense crags and overhangs that they are presented with on their journey up and over these daunting creations.Really,this is modern music at it's most titanic yet also at it's most accessible and dauntingly beautiful and rewarding. So please investigate, if you don't already know these performances for if any modern orchestral music could be said be life changing, then 'Transfigured Night' and the equally enthralling 'Pelleas und Melisande' could surely justify that weighty title.
I love this disc - great performances superbly recorded (especially given the size of the orchestra and the sonic range of the works)and detailed sleeve-notes, what more could anyone ask?
Simple to review this...superb,one of the GREAT recordings.As others have said,the atonal Schoenberg has far less appeal for me than the tonal,and this is a Cd containing two of his most approachable works,a must for any music lover.The 12 note boys led us,and themselves,up a musical blind alley,and are of interest to the music historian,rather than the music appreciator,I think.But here,a glorious example of the Schoenberg we DID have,in all his musicality.And Karajan?Outstanding,he sweeps us along as if on a tide,we ride the emotional wave of this intense,passionate music,and are left emotionally drained after it has finished.A triumph.
on 3 March 2013
I still treasure the 4LP set that Herbert Von Karajan recorded of music of the Second Viennese School. It must have been a huge step for DG to let the great man release the works of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, but what a wonderful success. The two works here, op 4 and op 5, probably regarded as Schoenberg's most accessable works, are played to perfection. The recordings will forever stand the test of time, and will surely be front runners for years to come.
A great place to start your journey if your new to this music. Dont be afraid, just dive in. It's like taking a warm bath!.
on 3 May 2014
Everything comes together in this recording. For once nobody could quibble about Karajan's way with large orchestral works and his ability to present them as structures in sharp relief. The Berlin Philharmonic strings underline their claim to be the very best. According to Simon Rattle, there is an almost organic deep sound in this orchestra which is both majestic and frightening; these qualities, including delicacy stretched out, abound in this revealing and transparent recording. And what a recording! The level of inner detail in every section, and the superb stereo separation, provides the ultimate in listening pleasure and excitement.
This is old school. More or less the same team, excepting Otto Gerdes replaced here by Dr Hans Hirsch as producer, who were responsible for Karajan and the BPO's epic Sibelius recordings among other delights in the 1960s. The same monumental approach to overall sound quality is evident. There is a natural warmth resulting from the improvement in new transistor recording technology from the late 60s when it was first introduced. By the mid 1970s the major record labels had finally got it to sound ( almost) as good as the valves it replaced.
I therefore make no apology for making this review on the basis of listening to the original issue....after all it sounds much better than the CD (I have that as well) and was recorded for the LP medium.
On to brass tacks. I chuckle at the reviewers who confess to trepidation or a sickly feeling in the back of the throat at the name Schoenberg! In terms of twelve tone, this is about as "cereal" as my rice crispies in the morning. It is very broad late romantic Nineteenth century music - and the highly perfumed subject matter, for those bothering to read the background notes to the music, is a cringeworthy product of the Fin de Siecle of Aubrey Beardsley, Oscar Wilde and other "Decadents".
On the other hand, given that Schoenberg's music is a game of two halves, there are pointers here to his later music.
As a companion to this disc I thoroughly recommend the set of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern Lieder recorded by Fischer Dieskau with Aribert Reimann about the same time (1973?) for DG following a series of concerts and recitals focussing on Berg in Berlin as part of a music festival at that time. It is clear the Verklarte Nacht theme found expression in many other ways, imbued with German expressionist poetry, elements of the story appearing to match events in the composer's private life, for example in the song Erwartung op2 Nr 1 to a poem by Richard Dehmel and the op 3 songs by Gottfried Keller. Verlassen op 6 by Hermann Conrad more or less sums it all up! How many suicides were there in pre 1914 Vienna? This is nihilism in art: Tot! op 48 Nr 2.
So while I enjoy this music very much as a set piece in orchestration for strings - and enjoy the results as played so superbly as on this disc. I do not like the sub text or narrative very much and feel that if there is a point to this music it is dragged out for too long. You can get the same message and "delights" from Schoenberg in concentrated form in his lieder as expertly sung by the late great German baritone, though this a hard to find on a single disc now, being included (or buried!)in the boxset of Gurrelieder conducted by Kubelik.
Further to that last point, do not bother with the EMI CD of Fischer Dieskau in Schoenberg and Berg with Hartmut Holl. It is, compared with his 1970s reading with Reimann when he was in impressive best voice, a pale and washed out version - though cheap and obtainable. Enjoy the pleasures of the hunt and hunt down the DG recording!
Schoenberg and Stravinsky shared their Second World War exile in Hollywood, within spitting distance of each other. Well as that might be as Stravinsky detested Schoenberg and his serial music method. On the whole, I am with Stravinsky as far as the argument goes.
But this does not detract from my admiration for this recording.
on 3 March 2016
Of such high quality.I am so pleased.
on 15 May 2010
I beg to differ with the previous reviewers. Although I am an admirer of Karajan's Beethoven and recordings and other standard nineteenth century repertoire I don't think he was at home with late romantic/atonal music. This interpretation of Verkaerte Nacht does not compare with the best by twentieth century specialists such as Boulez and Craft. Although he achieves a lush sound, it is at the expense of the overall interpretative drive (a common criticism of Karajan's recordings). Also in my view this work is much more effective in the sextet version. Although I think Pelleas and Melsande is more effective, the same general provisos also apply.