Various Artists

Vienne 1900

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This is a two-disc collection of music, either recorded on France's Naïve label or acquired by that label, that arose in Vienna during the years on either side of 1900. It might be argued that the music of the Viennese fin de siècle was all about extremes -- of length, of concision, of orchestration -- and that the best way to appreciate the musical culture of Vienna in 1900 would be to sit down and listen to a Mahler symphony from beginning to end. Still, for a program of short excerpts devoted to music that did not think in those terms, this one works remarkably well. It draws key connections that are usually ignored, and the biggest one is between Brahms on the one hand and the Second Viennese School on the other. The casual concertgoer is likely to think of Brahms as the conservative and Schoenberg as the radical, but Schoenberg himself did not draw that distinction. The combination of emotional intensity and concision in Brahms' later works was determinative for the styles of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern, all in slightly different ways, and the juxtapositions of works here make the relationships as clear as is possible within this restricted format. Another delightful connection is drawn with the inclusion of Schoenberg's arrangement of Johann Strauss II's Rosen aus dem Süden -- coldly deconstructive, yet not untouched by the sensuality of the original. Taken as a whole, the collection conveys the combination of lushness and an underlying sense of things spinning out of control that gives Viennese culture its peculiar fascination and has kept Freudian analysts in business for more than a century now. Naïve's mastering engineers, dealing with a set of recordings dating back as far as 1968, have done an admirable job in forging a whole out of diverse parts, and anyone who wants to try decadent late Romanticism in small servings rather than bellying up to the whole greasy plate should try this handsomely presented set.

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