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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful, autumnal Schoenberg readings from Rattle and the Berliners, 14 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Schoenberg/Brahms: Piano Quartet No. 1 (Audio CD)
Schoenberg's orchestration of Brahms' Piano Quartet No. 1 has, for some reason or another, received neglect that is undeserved. So it should be with anticipation that we turn to this new disc, which features Sir Simon Rattle with his stunning Berliners. Rattle had already proved himself in this repertoire with his 2009 set of the Brahms symphonies, and here he seems almost, if not equally inspired. That's not to mention the works that are purely Schoenberg's creations, the Accompanying Music to a Film Scene and the Chamber Symphony No. 1. In all the works, Rattle consistently shows vision that can do nothing but increase our appreciation of the composer whose radical writing is anything but easy to grasp.

Let us first take a closer look at the Brahms/Schoenberg Piano Quartet. From a compositional standpoint, this is a unique work, as Schoenberg started out with what was already a brilliant piece of chamber music. But along the way, while keeping in plenty of Brahmsian elements, his orchestration makes the end result as much about Schoenberg as about Brahms. Rattle as an interpreter seems to clearly see the complexity that follows such an undertaking. Those conducting the work will face enormous challenges of clarity, but Rattle seems to have mastered the score. Words fail me, but Rattle has kept things under such control that it sounds like a real symphony, one that almost deserves to stand behind the actual Brahms symphonies in terms of power and inspiration. But he hasn't lost the spirit in the process. We hear moments of heartbreaking beauty and tantalizing structural greatness, but no matter what we hear in the specific moments, we never lose sight of the Brahms (or is it Schoenberg?) of autumnal reflection. Even in the finale, easily the most exhilarating, foot-tapping piece of music ever written, we hear moments of lyricism that leave me breathless. That's not to say that you won't want to shout listening to the finale, as Rattle brings out the power and drama there in an utterly convincing way. But everything is done in a way that brings out the character of the individual moment while still keeping a vision of the cohesive whole. I don't even need to tell you that the Berliners are a joy to hear. To me it's a solid winner.

My ears suggest that the Accompanying Music to a Film Scene is a work in purely atonal form. It's anything but an easy first listen, but Rattle is so convincing you'll want to listen to it over and over again. Rattle keeps plenty of the horror in, but he keeps things from being merely threatening. He's managed to make it personal, wandering and introspective as it is. The score presents almost impossible things from the orchestra, but the Berliners aren't a bit concerned. Their playing is effortless, making us forget how challenging it actually is.

The Chamber Symphony No. 1 is much easier on the ears than the preceding work. Even here, though, it is difficult to comprehend. No piece by Schoenberg has ever achieved popularity with the casual listener, and this is no exception. The sheer greatness of the Berliners makes this a must-have for anyone interested in this piece, but Rattle is every bit as involved himself. The music is dreamy, always ethereal, yet the strong structural backbone of the work is keenly felt. This combination of mystery and symphonic grandeur is captured by Rattle in a wonderful way. The Berliners play as if though their life depended on it. This is truly an "on the edge of you seat" performance that is gripping in every way. Once again, this isn't music that is easy to grasp, but Rattle's performance of it is so fine that it is worth many listens.

In closing, this is a marvelous disc. Rattle has tried to make a persuasive argument for Schoenberg, and the results could hardly have been better. I'm left awe-struck and I'm sure you will be too.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Oct 2011 10:33:13 BDT
D. S. CROWE says:
Very interesting review-but the Brahms isn't as heavy a work as you suggest surely-it's a joyous piece and the finale is rollicking good fun, a direct "take" on the Hungarian Dances style. Rattle and the BPO are obviously having fun. Similarly the Chamber Symphony is a lush late Romantic work, with only the 9 minute cinema piece really "heavy". Just shows how perceptions differ-I thought this disc was "fun" and not the deep, heavy exercise that you obviously feel it is. Superb either way. berst Regards, SC.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Oct 2011 22:42:41 BDT
Sure, we're all free to have different opinions. However, I don't find the works "heavy"; rich would be the better word. There's lots of fun, to be sure, but it's not always pure fun, like the fun one finds in Dvorak. There's lots of reflection, serious thoughts on life, etc. For example, take the sigh at the opening of the 3rd movement of the Brahms, or the wistful, dreamy section in the finale. I find Rattle to have a gift of allowing these moments to come gloriously to the surface without sounding ponderous. It's anything but heavy as I see it, but not predominately fun either--excepting, of course, the obvious places of pure fun, like the beginning and ending of the finale. I think the words "thoughtful, autumnal" that I used in the title of my review explain my feelings better than anything else. Everything comes forth crystal clear in Rattle's hands, and if you take the time, you will be filled with joy and be transported to another world. I think we both agree on that. Perhaps we feel the same way more than we realize.

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my review. As a sixteen year old kid, I can never get too much advice.

Best regards,
Andrew
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