Robert Craft

The Works of Arnold Schoenberg, Vol. 1

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Robert Craft performed a valuable service by recording the complete works of Arnold Schoenberg at a time when many of them were not otherwise available. Though the American conductor was Igor Stravinsky's dedicated musical amanuensis during the Russian composer's final decades, he was also devoted to the works of the Austrian composer, and these recordings testify to the degree of his devotion. Using world-class orchestras such as the Philharmonia and the London Symphony, Craft creates unfailingly precise readings of such tremendously difficult works as Variations for Orchestra and Five Pieces for Orchestra. Using first-rank soloists like mezzo-soprano Jennifer Lane and bass Stephen Varcoe, Craft delivers uncannily accurate accounts of the Serenade and the one-act opera, Die glücklicke Hand. But beyond devotion and precision, Craft gives nothing to Schoenberg's music, and what's most conspicuously missing is feeling: dread in Die glückliche Hand, anxiety in Five Pieces, fury in A Survivor from Warsaw, affection in the Bach arrangements, and drop-jawed awe in the Woodwind Quintet. These letter-perfect readings inspire admiration, but one feels nothing in these performances. There was a time when devotion and precision were not qualities often associated with Schoenberg performances, when Craft's versions would have been more than enough. But now that there are outstanding performances by interpreters like Claudio Abbado and Pierre Boulez, which are both precise and passionately felt, it's hard to warm up to Craft's accounts. Originally recorded by Koch International and reissued by Naxos, the digital sound here is rich, deep, and colorful, all qualities sadly lacking in Craft's interpretations.

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