Robert Craft

Arnold Schoenberg: Six A Cappella Mixed Choruses

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Although Arnold Schoenberg's Six A Cappella Mixed Choruses (1928, 1948) are prominently featured on this CD, the third volume of Robert Craft's Schoenberg Collection on Naxos, the recordings of the String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10 (1908), and the Suite in G for string orchestra (1934) should not be overlooked as mere filler. In some ways, these instrumental pieces are the most interesting offerings, if not the most transparent, immediately gratifying, or successful. Since the six choruses are fairly conventional settings of sixteenth century German folk songs, they are the easiest to digest and the least challenging in their consonant harmonies and easy-to-follow canonic textures. The performance by the Simon Joly Singers is warm and ingratiating, and the entire set makes a strong case for Schoenberg's skills in arranging traditional music. But to better appreciate the development of his personal style, one should spend time absorbing the complexities of the String Quartet No. 2, passionately played here by the Fred Sherry String Quartet and beautifully sung by soprano Jennifer Welch-Babidge. This is one of the composer's most unusual and fascinating works, in which he tried to expand the medium in the last two movements by using the human voice as an extension of the quartet. The experiment is an interesting failure, insofar as the voice is never an equal, integrated partner in the ensemble, and remains outside it as the focus of attention. Composed for students, the surprisingly hard-to-play Suite in G is delivered with color and enthusiasm by the twentieth century Classics Ensemble, and is an unexpected example of Schoenberg's late dabbling in neo-Classicism and straightforward tonality. Naxos' sound quality is fine in all the recordings, though it is especially clear and resonant in the String Quartet No. 2.

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