Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Schoenberg and the moment of doing

Schoenberg: Klavierstucke, op. 11, 23 & 33; 17 Fragments

In the liner notes for a 1959 LP that included Arnold Schoenberg's Three Piano Pieces, op. 11, Glenn Gould says "Few composers possess the discipline to express themselves freely and joyously within the confines of twelve-tone writing." His further assertion, that "With respect to all the ingenuity that can be plotted in advance, the moment of doing still issues its supreme challenge of inspiration," is a profound truth about systems and art. He is speaking as much about performance, of course, as about composition, and the proof is in his Schoenberg recordings, which are inspired and inspiring documents of freedom and joy.

Yoko Hirota, who today teaches at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, recorded these Schoenberg pieces for Phoenix Records in 2006. Included are three of the five major works that normally show up in complete Schoenberg piano recordings: besides Op. 11, there are the five Klavierstücke, Op. 23 and the two Klavierstück, Op. 33. Hirota's versions don't have Gould's swinging freedom and his arresting tiger-about-to-spring feel, but their calmness and cool reserve has its own appeal.

Yoko Hirota's inclusion of Schoenberg's 17 Fragments, works that he never completed, open a window into the composer's development of his compositional style and his way of writing for the piano. In 25 minutes we see a progression from the earliest Brahmsian works to stripped down, concentrated bits of serial writing, some of which anticipate (or are themselves influenced by) Alban Berg and Anton Webern. These fascinating segments are as interesting in their own way as the more polished masterworks from earlier in the programme. Hirota uses them to paint a bright and colourful pianistic kaleidoscope.

This album will be released on March 8, 2019

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