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Schoenberg: Concerto for String Quartet & Orchestra; Lied der Waldtaube; The Book of the Hanging Gardens CD

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  • Conductor: Robert Craft
  • Composer: Arnold Schoenberg
  • Audio CD (29 Nov. 2004)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B0006IGQ0O
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 218,589 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Format: Audio CD
Robert Craft has always been closely identified, understandably, with the works of Stravinsky, but he has also always been a proponent of the works of the Second Viennese School; indeed he was given credit by Stravinsky for urging the composer to study some of those works closely. This disc contains a mixture of works from all of Schoenberg's various styles. There is the post-Romantic 'Lied der Waldtaube' ('Song of the Wood Dove') from 'Gurre-Lieder' (in a chamber arrangement made by the composer); the Suite for Piano, Op. 25, perhaps the earliest of his twelve-tone compositions; his neo-classic arrangement (recomposition, actually) of Handel's 'Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 7' as the 'Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra'; and finally, the great twelve-tone song-cycle 'Der Buch des Hängenden Gärten' ('The Book of the Hanging Gardens') for mezzo-soprano and piano. Craft either conducts ('Concerto', 'Waldtaube') or plays piano accompaniment ('Hanging Gardens'); the only thing he doesn't participate in is the Piano Suite, which is played by Christopher Oldfather.
For me, by far the most interesting work here is the new composition Schoenberg made for string quartet and orchestra based on the Handel concerto grosso. The string quartet playing here is one made up ad hoc, one gathers, by Fred Sherry, cello, a long-time collaborator with Mr Craft. The other players a Jennifer Frautschi and Jesse Mills, violins, and Richard O'Neill, viola. This piece is hard to describe. One way to think of it is that the orchestra plays--more or less--the Handel original, and the quartet riffs on its themes. But that's really not quite what happens.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x95e889f0) out of 5 stars 7 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x955c9048) out of 5 stars Schoenberg the Post-Modernist? 19 Mar. 2005
By Christopher Forbes - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Think of an example of radical, pure, High Modernism in the twentieth century and the first name that usually comes to mind is Arnold Schoenberg. When his name is added to a program it almost automatically sends a portion of an orchestra's patrons rushing for the door, even now over 50 years after his death. And yet all through his life Schoenberg was torn between tonal and atonal music, particularly in the decades around the Second World War. Late into his life he was still producing works like the Second Chamber Symphony or the Suite for Strings which were not far removed in language from Mahler or Reger. But nothing in his output is quite like the Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra. Long lumped with his other "orchestrations" of other composers, the work is actually not so much and orchestration as an original composition around a found object, in this case a Handel Concerto Grosso. In this work, you can hear elements of what would become post-modernism later in the decade.

The Concerto is a strange and delightful work, as long as you don't compare it too strongly to the Handel work upon which it was based. Schoenberg treats his source material as an object around which he builds a more complex sound world, much in the manner that post-modern composers like Berio would do 30 years later. The work begins with a typical slow/fast first movement which sounds fairly Handelian, though with small touches in the orchestra that bring it into the German late Romantic era. But as the work goes on, these touches become dominant and would give an Historically Informed Performance ideologue an apoplectic fit. Percussion is used liberally, including prominent use of xylophone doubling the melody. Often the music is reharmonized with highly chromatic harmony remanisient of Wagner or Reger. And most radically, the String Quartet material is elaborately recomposed using Germanic developmental techniques and Romantic harmonies. The result is charming, lighthearted, though still highly skilled and rigorously composed. It's closest relative might be the Resighi Airs and Ancient Dances, though the Concerto is more thoroughly recomposed than the Italian's work. This is a Schonberg work to charm even those who can't take Verklarte Nacht. Craft's performance, with the Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble makes the most of this delightful score, not obsuring the idiosyncracies but projecting the warmth and playfulness inherent in it.

This warmth bleeds over into the disc's most forbidding work, the Suite for Piano Op. 25. This work is the first piece by Schonberg to use the twelve tone technique exclusively, though it appears in selected movements of his Op. 23 Piano Pieces and the Op 24 Serenade. The work has always struck me as fairly dry and cerebral, reinforced by my early aquaintance with Glenn Gould's almost unbearably emotionless recording of this work. But in the hands of Christopher Oldfather it is light and almost charming. The relationship between the 12 tone music and it's baroque models is extremely clear. This is a recording to make me a convert to this work. It is even better than Naxos' other available recording, the Peter Hill transversal of the complete piano music of the Second Viennese School.

Next up on the disc are two early vocal works. The Lied der Waldtaube is a chamber reduction by the composer of one of the most lovely passages in his mammouth Gurrelieder. This section of the oratorio has always been my favorite as the Wood Dove tells the heartrending tale of the death of the heroine Tove. The lush orchestration of the original is replaced by the ensemble Schoenberg used for his Chamber Symphonies. Some of the warmth of the piece is also sacrificed, but what is lost in sensuousness is gained in clarity of line. In this rendition, though it is in no sense atonal, you can clearly hear the bonds of tonality loosening in the composer. The second vocal work on the CD, Das Buch der Hangenden Gartens, is a nodal work for Schonberg. It stands along with his String Quartet No 2 just on the tonal side of the 20th century abyss from which which Schoenberg would jump in his Three Piano Pieces, Op. 11. Though the song cycle has a later opus number, most of the songs were actually written before the Piano Pieces, and in them you can hear the composer straining at the bonds of tonality, while projecting the darkness and eroticism of the texts in music that is both sensuous and vaguely hysterical. This is an amazing song cycle, the last works for voice and piano that Schoenberg would produce and one of the most important of the 20th century. It is sung deliciously by Jennifer Lane, accompanied by Oldfather, who seems to have a particularly deep affinity for Schoenberg's idiom. While this doesn't eclipse the classic De Gaetani/Kalish reading on Nonesuch, it is still an excellent rendering of a seminal work by Schonberg.

This disc, rounded out by an interview of the composer recorded in 1948, was originally released on Koch International. Thankfully, Naxos has aquired much of the Koch catelogue and is releasing it on their budget label. Much has been made of the reappearance of Craft on the Naxos label, and indeed it is an event to be celebrated. Craft is a particularly good Schoenbergian, better I think than Boulez was with Sony. Where Boulez was trying to cast members of the Second Viennese school as proto-total Serialists in the Boulez vein, Craft is content to allow Schoenberg to be who he is, a modernist with one foot in Romantic era, and another in an era that perhaps we haven't seen yet. This disc makes a wonderful introduction to the wide stylistic range of this most important yet still most maligned of 20th century composers.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x955c90a8) out of 5 stars You must have this record 25 Feb. 2005
By Osvaldo Colarusso - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Robert Craft is one of the most important conductors of our time. He is a specialist in Schoenberg and Stravinsky. In the 1955 he did the first complete record of Webern' s works, and I believe that Stravinsky became a twelve tone composer influenced by his then young assistant. He was also responsible for one excellent almost integral record of Schoenberg's work. The level of the musicians he worked at this time can be exemplified by names like these of Glenn Gould, Helga Pilarczyk, Bethany Beardsley , Israel Baker and the Julliard Quartet. Unfortunately there are no Cds of these records ( the only exception : Schoenberg' s Piano Concerto opus 42 with Gould) . I believe that some works he recorded at this time , like Pierrot Lunaire, The Violin Concerto and The Four Songs opus 22 , remain as very important references in Schoenberg' s discography. These records appeared in LP by the label Columbia As Sony incorporated Columbia catalogue they preferred to transfer to CD the versions conducted by Pierre Boulez, that in some cases are very inferior of these conducted by Craft.

Surprisingly I found these new records conducted and coordinated by Robert Craft, issued by Naxos. This CD is very interesting, principally because the repertoire presented here covers al the phases of Arnold Schoenberg.

Chronologically we have first the Chamber Version of the Lied der Waldtaube, one excerpt of the ultra-romantic work Gurre Lieder. What a surprise to hear this version: the voice of Jennifer Lane is perfect for this music, and Craft' s conducting is really a miracle of balance and clearness . Chronologically we have now the wonderful cycle of songs, The Book of the hanging Gardens . These 15 songs were a kind of laboratory where the author has experimented the "suspension of the tonality". The dark texts by Stephen George are used as inspiration for somber harmonies and very subtle musical fragments. The result is fascinating. Music difficult to play and to sing has been recorded sometimes by excellent musicians . At the time of Craft's integral we had the record played by Glenn Gould . The Singer was Helen Vanni. Gould' s playing was fantastic, but the voice of the singer was not exactly agreeable ...It exists in CD in the Integral of the songs of Schoenberg played by Gould and " accompanied " by some irregular singers. Other important recording of this cycle was sang by the excellent Jan de Gaetani. The version of the mezzo Jennifer Lane and the pianist Christopher Oldfather is wonderfully accomplished . All subtleties of the music are here . The absolute miracle: the song XI . The way Oldfather plays the high octaves in pp is fantastic. And the precision of the singer doesn't' disturb the expression and the musicality of the execution. This is my favorite version of this wonderful work, and the " höhepunkt" of this record.

Chronologically we have now the first work for piano completely constructed in the Dodecaphonic technique: The Suite opus 25 . This is the second recording of this work in the label Naxos. The pianist Christopher Oldfather plays the work with precision and humor . Naturally the concurrency in this repertoire is very strong: Pollini( DG)( by far the most interesting) , Serkin, Hill(Naxos), etc. Oldfather plays differently of all others, and he illuminates the work with a kind of archaic manner of playing. Finally we have the first work of the CD, and the greatest curiosity: The Version for String Quartet and orchestra that Schoenberg made of Handel' s Concerto Grosso in B flat . Is a very strange work, and has the same sound of Monn' s Concerto that Schoenberg transposed for Celo and Orchestra. For me it remains as a curiosity , nothing more than that . This version is excellent , very well conducted and very well played.

The complement , a recording of one interview with Schoenberg is one interesting document. Not essential, but.....interesting.

This CD is a must: here you have the most beautiful reading of the Hanging Gardens Songs, one excellent version of the Lied der Waldtaube, and also one very good Suite opus 25. And this Curiosity: Handel/Schoenberg.Dear friend of Naxos : I'm waiting for more records like this one. Who knows Jennifer Lane singing Schoenberg' s wonderful Orchestral Songs opus 22.....
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x95b22d80) out of 5 stars Discovering Schoenberg with Robert Craft 26 Dec. 2009
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
A series of budget-priced recordings on Naxos of Schoenberg by the scholar-conductor Robert Craft offer an excellent way to get to know Schoenberg's music in its variety. The CD I am reviewing here is available individually or in a recent box set consisting of five CDs. The Works of Arnold Schoenberg, Vol. 1Although the featured work on this CD is Schoenberg's rarely-performed "Concerto for String Quartet", I was much more moved by the remaining music on this disk, in which Schoenberg composes entirely in his own idiom, as opposed to combining his own style with that of earlier composers.

The work I enjoyed most on this CD was the earliest, Schoenberg's song cycle "The Book of Hanging Gardens.", opus 15, composed in 1909. I had no prior familiarity with the piece, in which Schoenberg sets a series of 15 poems by the German poet, Stephan George. (Texts and translations are included in the liner notes.) Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Lane sings the cycle accompanied by pianist Chrisotopher Oldfather. This is highly passionate, intense, and disturbing music which tells of the doomed love affair, set in a luxuriant garden, between an inexperienced young man and a married, aristocratic woman. The vocal line is varied in character, with much of it declamatory in style and delivered in a hushed, low voice. The piano accompaniment is integral to the work and is highly varied. There is a long pianistic prelude and a final, clangorous postlude. Some of the accompaniment is contrapuntal in character, while, in other songs, the accompaniment is chordal. In one of the songs, no. 7, only the right hand plays the accompaniment. With the exception of the final song, each of the songs is under three minutes. And with the exception of the eighth song in the cycle, which sets a text beginning "If today I do not touch your body,/ the threads of my soul will break/like strings stretched too much" the tempos are slow. Schoenberg believed that it this work he had achieved a unity between text and expression. The music is on the cusp between tonality and atonality. I his book on Schoenberg for the Master Musicians series, Malcolm Macdonald offers an excellent non-technical analysis of this passionate song-cycle and writes:

"The poetic images of the Hanging Gardens reflect interior emotional states; and so Schoenberg's music, too, is interior -- not scene-painting, but the matching in music of fleeting yet complex moods. The vocal line, more supple and recitative-like than in any previous songs, is extraordinarily wide-ranging." ("Schoenberg", at 176)

Jennifer Lane also sings the aria "The Song of the Wood Dove" from Schoenberg's massive work for large orchestra, chorus, and soloists, the "Gurre-Lieder" completed in 1909, at about the same time as the "Hanging Gardens" song-cycle. In 1923, Schoenberg took this climactic song and reset it for a chamber orchestra of 15. That version is presented here. The music is the same, with the exception of the much lighter and transparent orchestral accompaniment. This is also music of passion, violence and illicit love. In the aria, which occurs at the end of the first part of Gurre-Lieder, the wood dove narrates the course of a doomed love between a Medieval king of Denmark, Waldemar, and his mistress, Tove. Waldemar and Tove sing of their own passion earlier in the Gurre-Lieder. The text, by a romantic Danish poet, Peter Jacobsen, is not provided. The entire Gurre-Lieder in its large orchestration is available in a separate Naxos set with Craft conducting and Lane again singing the wood dove's aria. Schoenberg: Gurre-Lieder

In 1923, Schoenberg composed his first work entirely in the 12-tone style for which he has become notorious, the five-movement suite for piano opus 25 performed here by Christopher Oldfather. The twelve-tone row remains formidable to many listeners. This suite has a light, astringent texture. The work is written in the style of a Baroque Dance Suite, and the various, short thematic materials are repeated, as they are in the Baroque models. In addition to the revolutionary harmony, there is a great deal of unusual and varied rhythm in this suite and rapid, dazzling shifts in timbre and character. It is valuable to open oneself to this music and to hear it several times at spaced intervals. With patience, it rewards attention.

In terms of chronology, the final work on this CD is the "Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra in B flat" (note the tonal reference) which dates from the 1930s. By this time, Schoenberg's 12-tone style had well-advanced, and the composer returned to another manner. This concerto is a transcription of Handel's concerto for strings and continuo. Schoenberg had earlier transcribed a harpsichord concerto by the early classical composer Monn into a cello concerto; and, a few years later, he would transcribe Brahms's piano quartet opus 25 into a work for orchestra. (Both these transcriptions are available on other CDs by Craft in this series.) This concerto for string quartet is highly difficult to play. The four-movement work is generally arranged in a concertante style with the quartet alternating passages with the orchestra. The second movement, marked Largo, is almost exclusively for the quartet. Each movement begins by presenting Handel's themes in Handel's own musical language. As the movements progress, Schoenberg develops Handel's themes in his own 20th Century musical voice. Thus the work, together with its companions, is not simply a transcription but a modernization in which Schoenberg appropriates an earlier work to his own style. The work is thus something of a bridge in styles and helps to show the relationship between Schoenberg's music and that of earlier composers.

The CD concludes with a short interview of Schoenberg conducted in 1949. The text of the interview is reproduced in the liner notes.

Robin Friedman
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x955c9330) out of 5 stars Schoenberg in a festive, lush, and mostly accessible mood 16 Mar. 2006
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Schoenberg's fearsome reputation with the music-going public is sitll potent enough to clear a concert hall, which is unfortunate for anyone who has missed out hearing his tonal works. The reviewers below have given detailed descriptions of this CD. I only want to add that the Concerto for String Quartet after Handel is a delightful, festive piece, and having just discovered it myself (I heard it as the score to a Paul Taylor ballet, Spindrift), my enthusiasm is sitll fresh. The two vocal works here are nearly as acceissble. In particular, the lush post-romantic idiom of The Book of the Hanging Gardens falls on the ear as seductively as Berg's early songs or Wolf's late ones. Maybe listening to these three pieces will make it easier for listeners to accept the twelve-tone Suite for PIano, which is quite beautifully composed for the instrument, but if not, the more accessible works are a joy in themselves.
HASH(0x955c92d0) out of 5 stars another excellent release on the Schoenberg series 2 Sept. 2010
By Ray Barnes - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
There has already been some thoughtful comments on this CD. The Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra in B flat demonstrates this composer's ability to write tonal music, although when all is said and done, the piece does not sound a lot like a Concerto Grosso. To my ear, right or wrong, it sounded closer to 20th century Neoclassical style, not too far removed from some of Stravinsky, of all people. While the Quartet writing is described as very difficult, the hardest piece since the Grosse Fuge, the music was not that difficult to listen to at all. All in all, it was pleasant and fun, rare for Schoenberg. The Op. 25 Suite for Piano which immediately follows, right from the get go, is a bit of a shock to the ear. The notes imply this piece is Schoenberg's first completely dodecaphonic work. (Glenn Gould has noted elsewhere that the last of the Five Piano Pieces Op. 23 is 12-tone, but the Op. 25 was composed earlier, in spite of the later opus number.) The first 4 movements are really abrasive, the final Gigue has almost a jazz like feel. Brilliant playing here. The Song of the Wood Dove from Gurrelieder, scored for chamber orchestra, was beautiful in every way. The Book of the Hanging Gardens has some fine singing and quite atonal piano writing, but not as severe as the Suite. The closing conversation with the composer was fun too. Overall the CD was of high quality with excellent performances and crisp sound, which especially brought out the sharpness of the solo piano. I enjoyed the whole CD, but would have preferred to hear the Piano Suite first. The Concerto deserves to be more popular and for many people would be a potential favourite work of this composer. Excellent notes, and the cover picture Destination by Ulrich Osterloh is appropriate. Naxos deserves kudos for this very enterprising series.
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