SCHOENBERG Pierrot Lunaire WEBERN 6 Pieces
The first volume of Henk Guittart and his Gruppo Montebello’s series exploring the milieu surrounding Arnold Schoenberg’s Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen (Society for Private Music Performances) handed us a chamber version of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, arranged piecemeal by Hanns Eisler, Erwin Stein and Karl Rankl, to which Guittart added a flute part and prudently reworked the original piano and harmonium parts. Reviewing that first volume (5/15), I commented on the paradox that Guittart’s performance had much to teach us about Bruckner’s piece – more so in fact than some orchestral performances – while, of course, it could never be considered a top-league recommendation in its own right.
This second volume places us directly inside hardcore Second Viennese School repertoire – Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire and Three Pieces for chamber orchestra alongside chamber reductions of the Five Orchestral Pieces, Op 16, and Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene and Webern’s Six Orchestral Pieces, Op 6 – and the relationship between the original scores and these mini me rethinks is suddenly more complex than is the case with pint size Bruckner.
The compacted, compressed miniaturism of Webern and of Schoenberg’s Op 16 can sometimes feel intriguingly at odds with the forces used to express them: massed orchestral ranks comparable to those deployed by Mahler. And hearing the material of Op 16 and the Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene reduced to a chamber theatre-orchestra size actually makes lots of sense. The opening movement of the Five Orchestral Pieces, ‘Vorgefühle’, borrows the immediacy of a circus band or cabaret ensemble, while the fretwork of colours supporting the single line weaving through ‘Farben’ has the clarity of light refracted through diamonds. Moreover, Webern’s Op 6 (Guittart’s revised version of the composer’s own reduction) manages to take on an identity separate from the orchestral original – the only accommodation of scale needed coming with the roaring percussion climax to the fourth piece, which is reined in to avoid overwhelming the proportions.
Marianne Pousseur’s 1997 recording of Pierrot lunaire under Philippe Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi, 8/92) was a disappointing flop, Herreweghe’s listless accompaniment rubbing awkwardly against Pousseur’s expressive oversell. But Pousseur has certainly grown into the part. Surrounded by Guittart’s well-rounded and opulently detailed ensemble, now she paints a satisfyingly ghoulish canvas, with a perfectly poised Sprechstimme style that actually attempts to rationalise Schoenberg’s pitches.