Col Legno's Schönberg & die Schrammelbrüder, featuring Klangforum Wien and joined by singers Jenny Renate Wicke and Walter Raffeiner, is trying to be so many things. It's a very postmodern concept -- a program combining the music of Vienna atonalists Arnold Schoenberg and Friedrich Cerha with "schlagers" drawn from the repertoire of the Schrammel Brothers, late nineteenth century tavern musicians who enjoy a legendary and historic status in Viennese music. It is true that Viennese composers of all kinds admired the work of the Schrammelbrüder, their casual, gemütlichkeit brand of music-making and odd combination of instruments influenced Schoenberg very strongly. This is illustrated with excerpts taken from Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire and his Serenade Op. 24. Cerha, who is regarded as one of the reigning kings of contemporary Viennese composers, is represented by three very short pieces taken from his Eine Art Chansons.
Schönberg & die Schrammelbrüder was recorded in Salzburg and Vienna in 2006. While it was in production, Wicke, who was highly regarded as a singer of contemporary music, cabaret and diseuse fare, passed away at about the age of 42; no other information is provided in the disc to clarify this event and -- not surprisingly -- Wicke's own website is silent on the matter. Therefore, an additional component of this program is that it is presented in Wicke's memory. Wicke's performances drawn from Pierrot Lunaire are quite good and it would have been nice to have a complete Pierrot from her, which apparently exists as the tracks here were taken from a live concert performance, presumably of the whole work. That would have served her memory well, but all we get are a few fugitive pieces crammed into this silly format.
When you execute a concept album of this kind, you would hope the result would be something that both informs and provides an intriguing listen. About all one can deduce from Schönberg & die Schrammelbrüder is that Schoenberg was connected with cabaret culture, but most listeners who know Schoenberg at all are aware of the Brettl-Lieder and certainly can connect Pierrot Lunaire with its popular aspect. The best thing about Schönberg & die Schrammelbrüder, apart from Wicke's singing, is the crisp and taut performances of the instrumental pieces from the Serenade Op. 24. Otherwise, its mixture of highbrow wonkiness and "Wein, Weib und Gesang" seems rather pointless, unless perhaps one is Viennese and suffering from a hangover.