SCHOENBERG Chamber Symphony No 2
Schoenberg, apparently, remains a polarising figure and this eighth instalment of Robert Craft’s Naxos cycle touches the polar opposites of his output. The radiant Chamber Symphony No 2 might be a beloved classic if Schoenberg hadn’t so comprehensively queered his pitch elsewhere, while the Wind Quintet represents darkest deepest “elsewhere”, a work to challenge even the most devoted Schoenbergian.
But the joy of Schoenberg’s music is in grappling to reach an understanding, transforming passive listening into a creative act. This magisterial recording of the Quintet from the New York Woodwind Quintet marks a new plateau in our understanding of the work. As Craft’s notes testify, performances during Schoenberg’s life were normally conducted and lasted around an hour. This lithe, quicksilver version clocks in at 38 minutes and, with the right tempi restored, Schoenberg’s contrapuntal labyrinth sparks into life. Melodic motifs evolve and morph into new terrain with profound inevitability, while his harmonic daring and recherché timbres now feel holistically connected.
The Chamber Symphony No 2 is another work where intellectual energy equates to a virtuoso instrumental showdown. The Philharmonia are fully engaged and Craft’s fastidious approach makes every little detail count: but, as the cumulative impact of the second movement demonstrates, his ear is also focused on the larger picture. The 20-minute melodrama Die glückliche Hand sits in the stylistic overlap between Quintet and Symphony. Mark Beesley’s small but anchoring role is powerfully executed, while Craft’s artful unpicking of the prickly orchestral and choral writing places the listener at the core of Schoenberg’s dream-world.