Arnold Schoenberg

6 Orchestral Songs, Op. 8
Welch-Babidge, Jennifer, soprano
Philharmonia Orchestra
Craft, Robert, Conductor

Friede auf Erden (Peace on Earth), Op. 13
6 Pieces for Male Chorus a cappella, Op. 35
Ei, du Lutte
Simon Joly Chorale
Craft, Robert, Conductor

Kol Nidre, Op. 39
Wilson-Johnson, David, narrator
Simon Joly Chorale
Philharmonia Orchestra
Craft, Robert, Conductor

Moses und Aron, Act II Scene 3, “The Golden Calf and the Altar” (excerpt)
Meynell, Eleanor, soprano
Foulkes, Carolyn, soprano
Porter, Kim, mezzo-soprano
Jellard, Frances, mezzo-soprano
Miles-Johnson, Deborah, contralto
Simon Joly Chorale
Philharmonia Orchestra
Craft, Robert, Conductor


I listened to this CD with great interest, as I hadn’t heard Kol Nidre in many years, and was not familiar with the Six Songs or the Six Pieces. Schoenberg is perhaps not as appreciated as a vocal composer, despite his having written so much for voice (including the absolutely beautiful The Book of the Hanging Gardens and the amazing opera Moses und Aron. To be honest, with the exception of the excerpt from Moses und Aron and perhaps Friede auf Erden (which I knew from an old Robert Shaw LP), this just isn’t Schoenberg’s strongest music. However, even if not his best stuff, or at least his most memorable, the works are of interest in that many of them represent his early pre-atonal style.

The Six Songs date from 1903-1904 and are pretty substantial. They are not particularly noteworthy, however, sounding like much German music of the late 19th century and lacking the intensity of Mahler or Bruckner. However, one can still detect the early stirrings of Schoenberg’s distinctive voice, at least after repeated listening. The Six Pieces date from around 1929-1930, yet are entirely tonal. These pieces are initially a genuine curiosity, since they sound nothing like the dodecaphonic works from the 20′s, until one realizes that they were written a few years before Schoenberg emigrated to the US and wrote a few better known works that were entirely tonal. That Schoenberg could, and did, write tonal music (he is known to have said something to the effect that “There is still a lot of music to be written in the key of C,” apparently predicting the rise of Terry Riley and minimalism in the 60′s) confirms (at least to me) that he was more interested in writing “music” than in writing “serial music.”

I confess that I have never thought very much of Kol Nidre. Part of it is that it sounds too programmatic for my tastes, and part of it is that as Hebraic tunes go, the Kol Nidre is somewhat overrated. I mean, it’s not bad. But there are better melodies one could draw upon.

I do like the inclusion of the section from Moses und Aron and hopefully this will whet people’s appetite to hear the whole thing. The performance of this excerpt is quite good, almost as good as my favorite performance by Michael Gielen.

And indeed, Robert Craft and all the musicians and vocalists do a very commendable job with the music. I’m very surprised this is on what amounts to a “budget” label.

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