SCHOENBERG Verklärte Nacht. Chamber Symphony No 2
Coupling Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht with his Second Chamber Symphony brings out contrasts as great as any this always provocative composer can offer, and Heinz Holliger, who has made a speciality of the Second Viennese School, provides an object lesson in refined yet powerfully intense interpretation.
Schoenberg’s revised version of the tone-poem for string orchestra offers textures of sumptuous homogeneity, while the symphony does remarkable things with interactions between the 12 wind players and the strings. Some performances of Verklärte Nacht overdo the music’s hyper-romantic twists and turns, while others are all too poker-faced in their efforts to avoid exaggeration. Even Holliger risks some very spacious tempi in the early stages of the work’s second main part but the music flows so naturally across its many small-scale shifts of speed that no feeling of stagy effortfulness arises. The strings of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra – also heard in Webern’s early, uncharacteristically Romantic tribute to Verklärte Nacht, the Langsamer Satz – make a well-integrated ensemble and the excellent recording keeps even the most turbulent textures lucidly balanced.
Schoenberg’s two-movement Chamber Symphony No 2 is sometimes seen as a problem piece: he began it in 1906 and worked on it intermittently over the next 10 years but only finished it in 1939, when well settled in America and beginning to think of ways of building bridges between the 12-tone method and the tonal system it was initially designed to replace. The symphony is a compelling demonstration of how music rooted in classical regularity and gravity can be ‘made strange’ without resorting to anachronistic expressionism, and the rich yet dark tone colours of the second movement’s coda, revisiting first-movement material, make an unusually strong impression as the climax to a superb performance.