SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

“Schönberg – Monn – Cellokonzerte” = SCHOENBERG: Chamber Symphony No. 1 for 15 solo instruments; MATTHAIS GEORG MONN: Cello Concerto (basso continuo and cadenzas by Schoenberg); Cello Concerto in D Major (transcribed by Schoenberg) – Soloists/ Philharmonische Orch. der Hansestadt Lübeck /Roman Brogli-Sacher – Cybele

An interesting mix of music from the pen of Arnold Schoenberg.

Published on October 7, 2013

“Schönberg – Monn – Cellokonzerte” = SCHOENBERG: Chamber Symphony No. 1 for 15 solo instruments; MATTHAIS GEORG MONN: Cello Concerto (basso continuo and cadenzas by Schoenberg); Cello Concerto in D Major (transcribed by Schoenberg) – Soloists/ Philharmonische Orch. der Hansestadt Lübeck /Roman Brogli-Sacher – Cybele

“Schönberg – Monn – Cellokonzerte” = SCHOENBERG: Chamber Symphony No. 1 in E Major for 15 solo instruments,  Op. 9; MATTHAIS GEORG MONN: Cello Concerto in G Minor (basso continuo and cadenzas by Schoenberg); Cello Concerto in D Major (transcribed by Schoenberg) – Hans-Christian Schwarz, cello Philharmonische Orch. der Hansestadt Lübeck /Roman Brogli-Sacher – Cybele Records multichannel SACD 761301 [Distr. by Albany], 66:57 ****:

This program either cleverly or confusingly (depending on how homogeneous you want your musical experiences to be) combines Schoenberg the radical composer with Schoenberg the arranger bent on creating a meaningful rapprochement between old and new music. Since the recording of the Chamber Symphony was made two years before the live recording of the concertos, the producers may simply have rummaged the recorded archives for a makeweight piece. If so, the results are still fascinating. With the Chamber Symphony, we see Schoenberg feverishly seeking a new musical idiom to replace the bloated, worn-out  gestures of late-Romanticism. With the two concertos, we see a more practical musician, providing vehicles for a musical celebrity, Pablo Casals, and also sedulously avoiding the avant-garde in the process.  Schoenberg may be updating the music of Baroque composer M. G. Monn, but in doing so, he evoked composers of the past, Mozart and Haydn, as his paradigms.

The earlier of the two concertos, the Concerto in G Minor, for which Schoenberg supplied a basso continuo line and cadenzas, was the result of a commission by musicologist  Guido Adler, who was preparing a collection of music by old Viennese masters. Schoenberg’s contribution is, as harpsichordist Thomas Gunther notes, is “‘ahistorical’, as well as being overloaded, bulky, uncomfortable—but funny, too, as in the moment when it imitates the lute.” The cadenzas as well, written to show off Casals’s skills as a performer, are difficult, double-stop-laden affairs that take us well beyond Baroque practice.

This kind of updating of old music to make it more appealing to modern audiences has been going on for a long time, of course, at least since the time of Mozart’s updating of the Messiah to suit late-eighteenth-century Viennese tastes. In fact Schoenberg mentions Mozart in connection with his later transcription of Monn’s Concerto in D Major, saying that like Mozart, he is intent on “removing the deficiencies of Handelian style. . . .” Schoenberg explains, “I have cut sequences by the handful (passages with melodies built around repetitions of the same note. . ., replacing them with real substance. I believe I have been able to make the whole enterprise approach the style of Haydn.” I’m sure Monn would have appreciated that.

Of course this kind of “improving” the works of old masters in order to get them before the public is both frowned on and unnecessary, given the vastly increased opportunities to hear old music nowadays. But while the Monn/Schoenberg Concerto in G Minor can be dismissed as a curiosity whose main interest is that Schoenberg’s name is attached to it, the D Major Concerto is another story. Like Schoenberg’s wacky but skillful and ultimately lovable orchestration of the Brahms Piano Quartet in G Minor, the D Major Concerto is, in Schoenberg’s hands, a new creation: a virtuoso display piece for both soloist and orchestra that truly dazzles in its own nutty, “ahistorical” way. Casals could apparently never wrap his head around Schoenberg’s difficult, demanding writing for the cello (and so never performed the work in public), but Hans-Christian Schwarz has no trouble with the piece, playing with elegance and thorough control. He’s supported in fine style by the Lübeck orchestra which, though hardly a well-known brand on this side of the pond, has worked with a number of distinguished conductors in its 116-year history.

There’s lots of recorded competition in Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1; it set off a riot at its premiere in 1907 but has turned out to be one of the composer’s most admired pieces. I’ve heard more intense performance of the work, yet I find the slightly cooler, more cerebral approach of Brogli-Sacher and the Lübeckers very satisfying.

As far as the engineering is concerned, the live recordings of the two concertos are decidedly less cool, being more closely miked and vibrantly reproduced, especially all the tinkling percussion in the D Major Concerto. Orchestral spread has been sacrificed somewhat, but this is not a big deal. I doubt anyone will be disappointed with this interesting mix of familiar and not-so-familiar Schoenberg.

—Lee Passarella




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