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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Pierre Boulez conducts Schoenberg
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on 25 June 2013
It seems extremely churlish to punish this bargain boxset for cutting back on the niceties of a full-priced release. No, there isn't a booklet, but it's £20 for goodness' sake. You have track listings on the back of every CD, which - if you already know the pieces in the box - should do you just fine.

What you DO get with this box is some of Boulez's finest conducting. Particular highlights are the string orchestra Verklärte Nacht with the New York Philharmonic, rich and sonorous and incredibly vivid - one of the most thrilling bits of music Boulez has committed to disc; a definitive Survivor from Warsaw with a nigh-on-perfect speaker in Günter Reich; very fine recordings of the major dramatic works Erwartung, Moses und Aron (Acts I and II), Die Jakobsleiter and Gurre-Lieder; a luxury recording of Pierrot lunaire with Yvonne Minton, Daniel Barenboim, Michel Debost, Antyhony Pay, Pinchas Zukerman and Lynn Harrell; and a few of my favourite Schoenberg rarities, such as the Suite Op. 29 and Serenade Op. 24, in fine Ensemble Intercontemporain performances.

The only discs I found less-than-compelling were the two choral music discs, which had a couple of highlights (Kol Nidre, the aforementioned Survivor from Warsaw) but which I otherwise found pretty dry. Still, nine superb discs out of 11 makes for a pretty compelling package in my books, and at this price any self-respecting Schoenberg fan should stop reading this review now and direct their cursor to the 'Buy' button at the top of the page.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 January 2015
There are some conductors who "speak to the heart." By this I mean that artistically there is such a strong empathy that the listener is pre-disposed to enjoy a performance and forgive some of the "warts." This does not prevent the conductor in question producing an occasional "shocker", but they are forgiven for these occasional lapses.
In my case the list of these much-loved artists includes Karajan, Klemperer, Bohm, Kempe, Tennstedt, Maazel, Svetlanov and has latterly come to include Sawallisch and Blomstedt.

Pierre Boulez on the other hand is an artist I admire greatly without feeling the natural empathy I expressed earlier. In interviews and in his writing he is personable, witty and always fascinating even when I profoundly disagree with his views, and technically he is one of the most gifted conductors there has ever been. Anyone who has watched films of him rehearsing will vouch for this last statement, and orchestras unfailingly play well for him, as this set illustrates.

I have always had a sense that in his early career he went out of his way to be the "enfant terrible" that so many critics characterised him as being, and that when tackled the Romantic and Classical Repertoire his choice of tempo and even the colouring was designed to be provocative rather than a true reflection of his musical instincts, and the recordings he made after his return to conducting in his late 60's bear this out to a large extent as his approach had mellowed.

It is a tribute to the status of Boulez the Artist and to the enlightened policies of the major recording companies in the 1960s and 1970s, in this case British CBS, that they were prepared to expend the resources in producing over a period of years some 20LPs of Boulez in his natural musical element, recordings which were not likely to be best sellers!

In this 24 Bit re-mastered collection we hear Boulez and the BBC SO, NYPO and Ensemble Contemporain plus an exalted collection of solo artists performing a major part of the works of Arnold Schoenberg. They were recorded in studio conditions for the most part in West Ham Town Hall-it is strange to think that there must have been times when I passed on the 697 Bus that such artistry was being performed, and by such artists in that incongruous setting.
The sound of the recordings has been improved immensely, and it results in the clean and detailed sound perspective needed for these works.

In the Gurrelieder, the BBC SO play out of their skins with lush tone to match the best, and the soloists are superb, particularly Yvonne Minton's Dove (whose adapted Song is later reprised as a solo number by Jessye Norman).
Boulez adopts a slow, meandering tempo not dissimilar to that of Sinopoli but without the latter's subtle "pointing", but even the new re-mastering does not eliminate some harshness and congestion in the second part with the participation of the huge chorus.

The highlights for me are the 2 versions of Verklarte Nacht, Die Jakobsleiter and especially the Pierrot Lunaire, in which a peerless group of musicians including Barenboim, Zuckerman, Lynn Harrell and Anthony Page are joined again by Yvonne Minton. Thankfully Boulez eschews the Sprechstimme approach to the work, and it is fully sung with matchless expression and tone by Minton-this is worth the modest cost of the set alone.
The Ode to Napoleon is superb, as are the orchestral works overall. Sadly there is no Chamber Symphony in either version or Pelleas et Melisande though he did record this for DG with the BPO.

I part company with Schoenberg when we reach the 2 Completed Acts of Moses und Aaron-I have never been able to get inside this to me intractable work, and this is again the case on this set.
However, perhaps some day.... And at the modest cost of the set I am glad to have it included...just in case!
Sadly, following a serious eye condition which after an unsuccessful operation in 2013 left his sight impaired, and a serious fall last year, I fear that the DG VPO disc of Das Klagende Lied and the Berg Lulu Suite will prove to be his swansong, and though I was not so impressed by the Mahler, it is fitting that the superb Berg emerges as the Maestro's Farewell recording, if such it proves to be.

Meanwhile, this set has great appeal to admirers of both Boulez and Schoenberg, to the curious and to those seeking to explore these fascinating works for the first time. The minor recording blemishes pale against the great artistry within the set, and it is an unrivalled bargain.
Notes and Texts will have to be sought elsewhere for there are none, but at the price it has to be 5 Stars. Stewart Crowe.
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on 20 October 2013
It seems a bit harsh that the overall rating of this product has been dragged down due to two reviews focusing on the lack of a booklet, so this review will comment on the music, which is exceptional.

First of all, it's a brilliant introduction for anyone who doesn't know any Schoenberg. It provides two of his early Wagnerian pieces- Gurre Lieder, an epic piece requiring one of the largest orchestra/chorus/soloist/narrator combos in the classical canon, and Verklate Nacht (in both string quartet form and orchestrated). These are excellent pieces, worth the price of the set alone and essential in understanding Schoenberg's progress as a composer. Weirdly, it doesn't contain Pelleas and Melisande (another generally tonal piece), although Boulez has recorded it and it is available elsewhere. This exclusion is the only downside of the set.

In terms of the other more atonal pieces, there is an excellent array of orchestral, choral, vocal and operatic works. His Five Pieces for Orchestra is a very good introduction to atonal music, showing that atonality doesn't have to be grating on the ear. Pierrot Lunaire is on of his most important pieces, a song cycle which is one of the first of the speech-singing genre. Other pieces, such as Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte and Kol Nidre (both set to English language texts), that one wouldn't necessarily buy unless they were part of a set, are extremely good, the former being one of highlights of the set. I've only mentioned a fraction of the music included- it would be too long a review to go into everything here- but the other performances are first rate too.

Recording quality is excellent, so is Boulez and co., and so is the price. If you want to get to know Schoenberg or atonal music, this is a very good place to start, and will last you for ages.
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on 24 July 2013
What a bargain! 11 CDs in a box for less than the price of two. But it isn't only a bargain as these are renowned performances of Schönberg by Pierre Boulez, one of his great champions. There may be better discs of some of Schonberg's music and if you already have a fair bit of it in your collection you probably won't want this, but for anyone who doesn't this is a great way to explore this composer.
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on 9 January 2014
I have mixed feelings about the works performed here but, at this price, I feel that I have a great opportunity to rethink my prejudices. I love Verklarte Nacht and the two different recordings make me feel that I have certinly got good value whatever I think about the other works.
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on 12 December 2016
Who's afeard? Nothing to be scared of... Boulez was an authoritative and passionate advocate of the Second Viennese School, and this sis a superb bargain. The lushly romantic early works and the more cerebral serial later ones are all given insightful interpretation, including by our own BBC Symphony. Least appealing are the a cappella choral pieces, but these are a small proportion. The Variations for Orchestra I had never heard before. Apparently Schoenberg studied Elgar's Enigma. Anyway, it's a vibrant and exciting piece in my judgement.
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on 1 October 2014
A super range of CDs with all of Schoenberg's works. An excellent listening experience with first class soloists and orchestras. I would recommend buying this. A super price to gain all the works of Schoenberg.
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on 18 January 2016
A fitting memorial to this inspirational musician
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on 24 April 2013
I wanted a Schoenberg box set and was considering this one because of the cheap price but will look elsewhere now because this one has no booklet, the previous reviewer made me aware of this. I'm the kind of person that really enjoys reading about the composer and their music whilst listening to it.
Can anyone recommend a good Schoenberg box set that comes with an informative booklet? any help is appreciated.
I think I read another review somewhere about Sony not including booklets with their box sets, I think that's a pretty bad idea, it certainly puts me off buying them anyway.
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