SCHOENBERG Orchestral Works – Rattle
This well-filled disc (for which I have written the English-language notes) offers an unusually comprehensive survey of the essential Schoenberg the irascible late-romantic of the Chamber Symphony (1906), the radical expressionist of Erwartung (1909) and, in the Variations (1928), the synthesizer of expressionist moods with techniques that set up neo-classical associations.
While this combination is not otherwise available, all three performances face strong competition from other recordings. At this stage of acquaintance I'm not going to declare that Rattle's account of the Chamber Symphony displaces that of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra from its favoured position, but it may well come to do so, if only for the demonstration quality of the sound, which has remarkable depth and realism. Rattle ensures a superbly well-characterized and integrated performance, which only veers towards over-emphasis at the very end. There is also ample refinement where that is called for, and this quality is no less abundant in Erwartung. Here the almost impressionistic sheen of the orchestral sound fits well with Phyllis Bryn-Julson's generally restrained approach to the vocal line.
Bryn-Julson has recorded Erwartung before (Accord), and her long familiarity with the work is evident throughout. This is not a reading with the dramatic urgency of Anja Silja's, or the authoritative power throughout the range that distinguishes Jessye Norman's. Maybe Bryn-Julson is not operatic enough, with insufficient penetration in the lower register. Even so, as an interpretation which has evidently been thought through by singer and conductor to convey dramatic impact without risking overstatement, it sustains attention.
When it comes to the Variations for Orchestra, Rattle and the CBSO are supreme. This recording may well be the first to convey the full, astonishing range of the work's textures, from the most delicate chamber music to dense tuttis, without a hint of artificiality. But it is the interpretation which counts for most. Rattle brings all these textures to rhythmic and expressive life, avoiding the lumpiness and stridency which occasionally afflict other conductors. He has evidently taken enormous care to follow Schoenberg's detailed markings, yet the result has a sovereign spontaneity. Despite strong competition from Boulez and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, this performance is a triumph. The disc is available at mid-price until June.'