Robert Craft

Arnold Schoenberg: Pelleas und Melisande; Erwartung

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This 2008 Naxos disc dedicated to the music of Arnold Schoenberg with Robert Craft leading the Philharmonia Orchestra re-couples performances on Koch International previously issued at the turn of the century. The opening Pelleas und Melisande first appeared with Pierrot lunaire while the closing Erwartung originally came with Transfigured Night. In either case, a rich, ripe late Romantic work is joined to a hard, harsh early atonal work, and in every case, it's easy to see where Craft's sympathies lie. His Pelleas is so clear and precise that everything in the score is audible. But his tempos are too inflexible, his textures too clean, and his interpretations too reserved. In a great performance of Schoenberg's Pelleas, the stakes should be life or death. In Craft's performance, the stakes are nickel and dime. Much more effective is the performance here of Erwartung. Part of the reason is Craft's greater sympathy for the violently expressive score. But a bigger part of the reason is the frighteningly intense performance from soprano Anja Silja. There have been scary performances of Schoenberg's one-act murder mystery before, but none of them are scarier than Silja's. On top of nailing the notes and bringing life to the angular vocal lines, Silja breathes fire into the homicidal sentiments of the text, and when combined with Craft's meticulous direction and the Philharmonia's virtuosic accompaniment, her performance is among the wonders of the Schoenberg discography.

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