Berg/Schoenberg/Webern Piano Works

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Berg/Schoenberg/Webern Piano Works

  • Sonata for Piano
  • (3) Klavierstücke
  • (6) Klavierstücke
  • (5) Klavierstücke
  • Suite
  • Klavierstück
  • Klavierstück
  • Variations

This project has long been close to Peter Hill’s heart. He mentioned it when I interviewed him for Gramophone back in September 1989, near the beginning of his justly hailed Messiaen cycle for Unicorn-Kanchana, feeling that he had things to say about the Schoenberg piano works which had not been said on record. Here now is the complete vindication of that statement.
What he has to say arises almost entirely, it seems to me, from basic musicianly eloquence rather than from special pleading. These are scrupulously prepared performances, with all the polyphonic strands clarified and all the myriad articulation marks respected. In order to accommodate that detail and let it speak musically, Hill takes tempos on the relaxed side of Schoenberg’s frequently rather manic metronome indications. The first two of the Op. 11 pieces gain a gravity that I suspect would have surprised the composer, and the fourth piece of Op. 23 does lose some of the suggested schwungvoll character. Yet there is no lack of brilliance and velocity in such pieces as the Gigue from Op. 25, and time and again Hill’s thoughtfulness and search for expressiveness and beauty of sound justify his spacious approach.
It is a process of search rather than discovery, for there is something inherently paradoxical about most of these pieces. They try to behave with the soulfulness and seriousness of the Germanic tradition at the same time as cutting themselves off from the language which gave such things meaning. The resulting misalliance has been criticized down the years from both the traditionalist and the avant-garde standpoints, but in outstanding performances it registers as a disturbing and unique sensibility. Where Pollini responds with a near frenetic intensity and an excess of dazzling pianism, Hill probes with subtlety, sympathy and high intelligence. Both approaches are equally valid, it seems to me, and both are done with comparable finesse. Much the same applies to their Webern Variations.
In the Berg Sonata, Hill’s unforced lyricism, inwardness and flexibility of phrasing are again immensely appealing, in this instance a good deal more so than the rather inhibited Pollini, though the Italian does have the edge in clarity of articulation. Murray Perahia’s recording is an absolute dream, however, with an even more compelling sweep than Hill and some minor miracles of quasi-orchestral scoring. The downside: it’s only available as part of Sony’s four-disc 25th Anniversary Edition.
Apart from its amazing value for money, Naxos’s first-rate recording quality, Peter Hill’s own lucid booklet-essay, and what sounds like an ideally regulated instrument, all contribute to the outstanding success of the new issue.'

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