SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

SCHOENBERG: Piano Music (complete) – Hardy Rittner, piano – MD&G

Sound the alarm—a new Schoenberg piano disc!

Published on December 17, 2009

SCHOENBERG: Piano Music (complete) – Hardy Rittner, piano – MD&G

SCHOENBERG: Piano Music (complete) – Hardy Rittner, piano – MD&G Multichannel (2+2+2) SACD 904 1593-6, 62:50 ****: [Distrib. by Koch]

For me it is always a pleasure to see a new disc of Schoenberg’s piano music, not something that comes your way very often. The chief contenders for top honors are Pollini (DGG, excellent) and Paul Jacobs (Nonesuch, sublime), an elite pair if ever there was one. But whereas the primary concern of both these performers seems to be textual clarity and intellectual honesty, Rittner brings something new to the table: color and feeling. The other two are not entirely absent the feeling, but color is not a primary ingredient.

Two separate pianos are used, and good arguments for both; an 1870 Johann Baptist Streicher & Sohn for the 1894 3 Pieces, the Op. 11 and Op. 19, while we switch to a 1901 Steinway D Grand for Op. 23, 33a, 33b, and 25. Evidently the composer spoke of a type of dampening effect that would have been present on the earlier model and not the modern grand, while the later works fit into the timeline of the life of such a fine piano as the Steinway D. I must say that the effect of the Streicher & Sohn is revelatory; I have never heard these pieces sound quite like this, from the warmly Brahmsian 1894 pieces to the first inclinations of the Op. 19 6 Small Piano Pieces.  The instrument is simply wonderful, the lows particularly resonant and burnished. It gives a whole new feeling to these overly-scrutinized miniatures that make them almost Bergian in their instrumental shading.

The Steinway is certainly effective in its clarion ability define the various strands of Schoenberg’s later piano works. The Waltz of Op. 23 is in fact the first pure twelve-tone piece he composed. But the magisterial Op. 25 Suite, one of the best and most important piano works of the 1900s benefits most from the curiously facile and synergistic meeting of the piano sound and melodic (yes, I said melodic) gestations of Mr. Rittner’s sympathetic playing. He doesn’t top Pollini and Jacobs; I doubt anyone will. But this disc, coupled with a fine conception married to an equally interesting couple of instruments makes this a release that no one who loves this music can easily overlook. MDG’s SACD sound is warm and rounded if a little recessed, but very forgiving in its fidelity to the pianos used. [I'm willing to bet it may sound less recessed when played back using the 2+2+2 speaker setup, though it's a lot of touble..Ed.]

– Steven Ritter




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