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Brahms, Schoenberg - Amsterdam Sinfonietta

Brahms, Schoenberg - Amsterdam Sinfonietta

Channel Classics  CCS SA 30411

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical


Brahms: String Quartet in C minor, Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht

Amsterdam Sinfonietta
Candida Thompson


When Arnold Schoenberg was a youth, the controversy between the schools of Johannes Brahms and Richard Wagner was still in full swing. Wagner belonged to the so-called New German School, which sought to break with tradition and to experiment with instrumentation, form and harmonic style. Brahms, like Robert Schumann, was a member of the Academic School, whose innovations were organically related to the tradition of Beethoven. And as for Schonberg - he began his musical life as a convinced disciple of Brahms. However, after hearing Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde, he became equally devoted to Wagner. Indeed, both influences are manifest in Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht. While Wagner has gone down in history as the great innovator, Brahms is widely viewed as a conservative composer.

In 1933, on the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Johannes Brahms, Arnold Schoenberg gave a lecture entitled The progressive Brahms. Schonberg explained why Brahms was such a great innovator and even stressed his importance for the emergence of the Second Viennese School. To illustrate the progressiveness of Brahms's harmonic style, Schonberg quoted his String Quartet opus 51 in C minor, arguing that Brahms's 'developing variation technique' and phrase structure were among the essential materials of Verklarte Nacht. Besides many articles, Schonberg's greatest homage to Brahms lies in his orchestration of the latter's First Piano Quartet, made in 1937.

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Review by Graham Williams - May 20, 2011

This is a marvellous release in both sonic and purely musical terms. The Amsterdam Sinfonietta and their leader Candida Thompson continue their award-winning series of chamber works transcribed for a chamber orchestra with what at first appears to be the unlikely coupling of Schoenberg’s celebrated String Sextet‘Verklärte Nacht’ and the String Quartet No. 1 in C minor by Brahms.

The connection between the two works is the lecture Schoenberg gave in 1933 on the centenary of the birth of Brahms entitled ‘Brahms the progressive’. In this he used this quartet to illustrate the progressiveness of Brahms’s harmonic style and the influence of the older composer on his own development. The arrangement of the Brahms on this SACD consists of the original string quartet but with a bass part created by the arranger Marijn van Prooijen who is also a player with the Amsterdam Sinfonietta. In the accompanying notes Willem de Bordes accurately describes the quartet as “ a work of harmonic liberty and symphonic allure” and this arrangement certainly emphasises the symphonic stature of the work.

The Amsterdam Sinfoniettta launch the stormy C minor opening theme with tremendous drive and capture the unrelenting energy of this turbulent piece in each of the four movements. It would be hard to imagine more consummate or committed string playing than that heard in this exhilarating performance.

Schoenberg’s‘Verklärte Nacht’, originally written in 1899 for string sextet, was arranged by the composer for string orchestra in 1917 and further revised by him in 1943. It is this final version, with its greater transparency, that is given on this disc.

The work was inspired by a poem by Richard Dehmel (1863-1920) that is reproduced in four languages in the accompanying booklet. The poem describes a man and a woman walking through a dark grove on a moonlit night. The woman confesses to her lover that she is carrying the child of another man. Her lover forgives the woman and declares that through his love for her the child will be transfigured and become theirs. They walk on through the night.

The music closely follows the form of the poem and, though continuous, falls into five clearly defined sections that match the five verses of the poem.

The Amsterdam Sinfonietta’s performance is quite expansive, but this allows them to explore and illuminate the full range of emotions in this most passionate of compositions. The sound is ravishing with none of the glare from the high strings that disfigure other recordings of the piece that I have heard.

The venue for the recordings of both works was the Philharmonie, Haarlem, The Netherlands. The Schoenberg was recorded in October 2010 and the Brahms in June 2007 but there is no detectable difference in the sound quality; it is excellent throughout. Those listening in MC will definitely notice, in both works, the extra bloom on the strings and an increased sense of the hall’s acoustic signature. The dynamic range is also very wide with the opening of ‘Verklärte Nacht’ being almost at the lowest range of audibility.

This SACD can be enthusiastically recommended without reservation.

Copyright © 2011 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Sonics (Multichannel):

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