Déjà Review: this review was first published in October 2000 and the recording is still available.

Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)
Chamber Symphony no. 2, op. 38
Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene, op. 34
Verklärte Nacht op. 4 (arr. string orchestra)
Ulster Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
rec. 1998, Ulster Hall, Belfast, UK
Naxos 8.554371 [60]

Anyone who believes that Schoenberg is approachable only for the specialist listener should hear this disc. All three works bear eloquent testimony to the composer’s warm romanticism, but only one of them – the celebrated Verklärte Nacht (1899) – was written during the earlier part of his career.

The Chamber Symphony no. 2, which is placed first in the programme, is a real revelation. Schoenberg began work on the score as early as 1906, then put it to one side, only returning to complete it more than thirty years later. in 1939. There are two movements, the first of them slow and richly expressive, the second more lively and more intense. The orchestration has abundant interest, and its approach is strongly connected with the music’s fundamental characteristics: strings dominate the first movement, winds and brass are more prominent in the second. In all, it is a most effective piece. The performance by the Ulster Orchestra and Takuo Yuasa serves the music well, and so does the beautifully balanced Naxos recording.

The Accompaniment to a Film Scene (1930) is not quite what its title implies, since Schoenberg composed it with an imaginary scene in mind, rather than as part of a film music project. He envisaged music for three emotional states – Threatening danger, Fear and Catastrophe – so it is no surprise that the music has that expressionist quality which had first appeared twenty years before in the monodrama Erwartung. Again the performance is keenly focused, the recording clear.

The best known of these three pieces is Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), for string orchestra. Yuasa plays the 1943 revision of the 1917 orchestration of the original string sextet version. The sound world of this music is subtle, and one advantage of this recording is that it maintains a real sense of intimacy. But there is ardour too, developing a sweep of momentum that carries the listener along. The recording is one of Naxos’s best, with a pleasing sense of space and warmth, which is so important a consideration in music for strings. The music relates to a poem by Richard Dehmel, in which a woman tells her lover that she has conceived another man’s child. He accepts her, and through their love the night becomes transfigured. The CD booklet helpfully prints this poem.

Terry Barfoot

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