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SCHOENBERG: Chamber Symphony No. 2 / Die gluckliche Hand / Wind Quintet
Philharmonia Orchestra; New York Woodwind Quintet Conductor Robert Craft

Naxos (Schoenberg, Vol. 8): 8.557526 [TT: 78 mins]

Craft's accounts of some rarely performed Schoenberg makes for an exciting near 80 mins listen. Why is the Second Chamber Symphony (1939) still so little-known? It surely sounds 'mainstream' nowadays - lush, melodious, dramatic and with a richly polyphonic second movement, as Naxos fairly describes it. The composer's name is still a bugbear, and even today probably makes bad news for marketing.

Most revelatory for me was renewed aquaintance with the Wind Quintet, dauntingly complex when first encountered in my youth, and infrequently heard ever since - "My music is not modern, it is merely badly played" Arnold had said. As given here by the virtuosi of the New York Woodwind Quintet it is scintillating and, despite its 38 minutes, might gain more friends if it were renamed Divertimento. I love it, and have played this account through several times with undiminished delight.

I really cannot attempt to review Die glückliche Hand, a very compressed 'pantomime' for two silent actors, a wordless chorus of twelve and one solo singer, without having any idea what is being sung in German... The music is concentrated, atonal, and pleasant enough to my adaptable ears, if not for everyone's... But it needs a 'handle' to grasp it, and the two pages of small print are not enough.

Nonetheless this tightly packed disc can be recommended at its bargain price, even though no libretto is provided in the booklet (nor even on the Naxos website) a serious failing, due presumably to costs consideration?

Schoenberg: String Trio, Op. 45
Four Pieces for Mixed Chorus, Op. 27
Three Satires for Mixed Chorus, Op. 28
Septet In E Flat major, Op. 29
Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene, Op. 34

Rolf Schulte (violin), Richard O’Neill (viola) & Fred Sherry (cello)
Simon Joly Chorale & Members of the London Sinfonietta
Rolf Schulte (violin), Fred Sherry (cello), Christopher Oldfather (piano), Charles Neidich and Alan R. Kay (clarinets), Michael Lowenstern (bass clarinet) & Toby Appel (viola)
London Symphony Orchestra/ Robert Craft

Naxos - 8557529

One should, perhaps, not look a near-gift horse in the mouth, and there are treasures here for small cost, but it has to be deplored that Naxos again makes no arrangement for availability of texts for the vocal works here (you can find Schoenberg's own texts for the Op 27 choruses on Emily Ezusts website - in German only).

The String Trio is perhaps one of Schoenberg's most haunting and satisfying works, once one has got inside its uncompromising language. The Septet too is tough at first, but it grows on you, especially the inner movements.

So, again, a recommendation with reservations.


ROUSSEL: Symphony No. 2 / Pour une fete de printemps / Suite in F major
Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Stephane Denève
Naxos: 8.570529

One of my favourite composers, who has never quite achieved the secure place in the UK repertoire he merits. His second symphony is quite a rarity and its expansive progress (3 movements, 43 minutes) encompasses wide variety of expression. A gorgeous piece which I have played through several times, with undiminished pleasure.

The concise Suite of four years later (1926) is characteristic of his economy and tense thrust, and room is found for a symphonic poem which"might be thought of as preparation for the larger work" (Richard Whitehouse).

Very satisfying performances under a conductor who is clearly in sympathy with this sometimes idiosyncratic composer and makes the most of the music's twists and turns. Well packed at 69 mins, this is another very desirable bargain release.

Symphony No. 4/ Rapsodie flamande/ Petite Suite / Concert pour petit orchestre / Sinfonietta for string orchestra
RSNO / Stéphane Denève
Naxos - 8572135

A companion disc, released in early 2010, this is perhaps a first choice for collectors who are not, yet, Roussel addicts.

With Symphony No 4 and a clutch of favourites plus one rarity, the Rapsodie Flamande, it is a disc that I found myself playing straight through, with analloyed pleasure. In live performances, you'll be lucky to come across even one of these piquant works in a year of concertgoing. There must be very few composers whose identity is staped so firmly and unmistakably upn each of his mature works.

Denève has made a corner of his own here, performances and recording quality are exceptional, and the disc is supported by voluminous notes from Richard Whitehouse.

Peter Grahame Woolf