Gardner Conducts Schoenberg

cover - CHAN 5198

SCHOENBERG: Pelleas und Melisande. Erwartung* / *Sara Jakubiak, sop; Bergen Philharmonic Orch.; Edward Gardner, cond / Chandos CHSA-5198

I’ve often said that a lot of “modern” music doesn’t really allow much leeway in interpretation because its creators were very specific in exactly what tempi, phrasing and dynamics they wanted in their scores, but this doesn’t always apply to that late Romantic music that bordered on the modern. In the French school, you have Debussy and Ravel; in the Russian, Scriabin; and in the German, Mahler and Schoenberg, who was in part strongly influenced by Mahler, particularly in his earlier years.

And although Erwartung is, like the second half of Gurre-lieder, a work right on the hot edge of modernism, it too has developed a performance tradition, but this is clearly truer of his very Romantic Pelleas und Melisande. Most interpreters follow the lead of the great, late Robert Craft, giving it a passionate but fairly stoic reading, but in this new recording British conductor Edward Gardner clearly ties it to the late tone poems of Richard Strauss, and perhaps even a bit like Wagner. Legato phrases are played very legato, yet the powerful passages do not lack the proper impact.

But then, I’ve noticed this as a tendency among British conductors in general when approaching the music of serial composers. Jeffrey Tate did much the same thing with Berg’s Lulu, and in that case I liked his approach very much because he made the score sound more like music that had a connective flow rather than a score that emerged in what, for lack of a better term, I would describe as “broken steps,” and it helped to bind the scenes and acts together in a remarkable manner. Thus it is not necessarily a bad thing, just very different from what we are used to hearing. With that being said, I still prefer the recordings of this work by Craft and Michael Gielen. Gielen plays this piece with a bit more sweep than Craft, but not quite as Romantically phrased as this one.

Gardner brings the same sensibilities to Erwartung, sung very prettily and with good interpretation by one Sara Jakubiak. She is a soprano with a lean, very bright timbre, good tonal focus and quite good diction. Hers is a performance very similar to the one that the great Magda Laszlo gave with Hermann Scherchen back in the 1950s. Although no one holds a candle to the late Jessye Norman’s recording with James Levine on Philips, this is still an exceptionally fine performance that keeps the listener riveted. In addition, Gardner here brings out some remarkable details in the orchestra, such as the low bassoon episode and other wind instruments. Although Norman is still my gold standard, I can easily rate this as the second-best digital recording of this challenging work.

So there’s my review. The choice is yours!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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