Kent Nagano

Schoenberg: Die Jakobsleiter

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Listeners may be thrown by this disc, for the pairing of the gentle Friede auf Erden with the turbulent oratorio Die Jakobsleiter is quite odd. Even though these works are ostensibly linked as expressions of Schoenberg's religious mysticism, they could not be more different stylistically or emotionally. Friede auf Erden is rather close to the chromatic but tonal language Schoenberg employed in Gurrelieder, and is readily accessible to anyone acquainted with late Romanticism. Appreciation of the orchestral version is easy, due to the glowing performance given by the Deutscher-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Kent Nagano. But one should not be lulled by this radiant work, for the unfinished oratorio that follows presents daunting challenges. Despite the exemplary efforts of the eight vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra, Die Jakobsleiter remains a hard nut to crack. Schoenberg's expressionistic atonality, Sprechstimme, and angular vocal lines give this work a distressing quality, and the thick orchestration may be difficult to sort out, even with Nagano's nuanced direction. The a cappella Friede auf Erden closes the disc, but its placement after the oratorio lends it the feeling of a choral finale, plainly unintended by Schoenberg. The hybrid SACD recording is fine, though the murky textures of the massed forces make its refinements moot.

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