Originally released by Koch, these recordings of key works in Arnold Schoenberg's oeuvre are now part of Naxos' Robert Craft Collection, a series of reissues that reaffirms the conductor's unflagging devotion to modern music, even if the performances and recording quality periodically flag. The pieces predate Schoenberg's discovery of the twelve-tone system and are to varying degrees atonal and expressionistic, with the exception of the tonal Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9 (1906), which was composed just before the atonal period. Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 (1912), is Schoenberg's best-known work, famous for introducing Sprechgesang or Sprechstimme (a vocal technique in which words are half-spoken, half-sung) and for influencing numerous modernist vocal pieces since. This angst-laden cycle on "three times seven poems by Albert Giraud in German translation by Otto Erich Hartleben" is convincingly played by members of the Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble, though Anja Silja's consonants are not at all clear, and the listener is obliged to acquire the libretto to understand what she is declaiming. Unclear enunciation is also a problem in appreciating the short, fragile song Herzgewächse, Op. 20 (1911), and the brooding Four Orchestral Songs, Op. 22 (1916), which are sung by soprano Eileen Hulse and mezzo-soprano Catherine Wyn-Rogers, respectively, though their voices are much clearer than Silja's and some of the words can be made out with close listening. The Philharmonia Orchestra is full-sounding and warm in Opus 22, suggesting that the musicians responded well to the music and to Craft's direction. The performance of the Chamber Symphony is rather more brusque and angular, and the playing by the full Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble is more typical of Craft's performances in its extremely dry tone and mechanically stiff lines. As one might expect of such a compilation, the recordings made at Abbey Road Studios (Herzgwächse, Four Orchestral Songs) are superior to that of Pierrot, which was made at the Academy of Arts and Letters, and that of the Chamber Symphony, which was recorded at the Recital Hall of SUNY Purchase.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21|
|Four Orchestral Songs, Op. 22|