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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Schoenberg famously said that there is plenty of music still to be written in C major, and here in his six a cappella Choruses he deliberately relaxes in setting 16th-century German folksongs, harmonizing them in his own distinctive way. Three were written in 1948, not long before he died, following up the three he had composed 20 years earlier, all superbly sung here by the Simon Joly Singers. The String Quartet No. 2 is distinctive in having a vocal part in the last two of the four movements, with Jennifer Welch-Babbage ideally cast, her fresh, clear soprano as precise as any instrument. The texts of the poems by Stefan George are provided, as are the words for the six a cappella Choruses. The Suite in G of 1934, less demanding, makes an apt coupling. The vocal pieces were recorded in London, the instrumental in New York, both in superb sound.

Paul Driver
, August 2006


The latest of Craft’s Schoenberg discs is an odd but satisfying medley: lusty choral singing, dazzling quartet playing, scrunchy string vigour. The choruses, adaptations of German folk songs, are, as Craft writes,” miniature polyphonic masterpieces”. A cappella writing is a significant strand of Schoenberg’s oeuvre, as are returns to the “old style”, exemplified by the Suite in G. The quartet, whose last two movements set poems by Stefan George, is wonderful. Fascinating that Schoenberg introduces the human voice with quotations from earlier in the work, just like Beethoven in his Ninth Symphony.

Gramophone, February 2006

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Lawson Taitte
January 2006

Naxos is doing the musical world a tremendous favor by continuing Robert Craft's ongoing Schoenberg project. Briefly Schoenberg's pupil and for decades his rival Igor Stravinsky's amanuensis, Mr. Craft knows the period of high modernism in his bones. . . . The quartet performance, led by cellist Fred Sherry and adorned by the rich soprano voice of Jennifer Welch-Babidge, is worth the price of the disc. The less familiar pieces are worth exploring to discover the composer's lighter side.

David Vernier, January 2006

Arnold Schoenberg's a cappella folksong settings are among his least-appreciated--and most easily listenable--works, excellent examples of his pre-12-tone harmonic style, with masterfully crafted polyphonic textures. For one thing, they're rarely heard, and although not especially a breeze to sing, they're effectively and soundly written--Schein uns, du liebe Sonne being the standout among the six works. The Op. 10 string quartet performed here is its original 1908 version rather than the one for string orchestra that the composer produced in 1929. It's craggy and difficult--but also offers a multitude of lyrical and beautiful moments that the Fred Sherry String Quartet fully exploits. Soprano Jennifer Welch-Babidge adds poignancy, sensitivity, and knowing style to the solos in the final two movements, using her thoughtful inflection to capture the music's colorful, moody impressionistic elements.

The 1934 Suite in G for String Orchestra is another gem--solidly tonal yet occasionally stretching the boundaries of traditional harmony, rich in melodic ideas and exciting rhythmic touches. Its five movements demand the highest level of technique from the players, even though it originally was written for developing student musicians. Again, this outstanding piece is rarely played or recorded, but this first-rate performance by Robert Craft's Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble is all you will need. The same goes for the rest of the program--and Naxos' engineering, from London's Abbey Road studios (choral works) and New York's premiere chamber-music recording venue, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, matches the disc's fine musical values. Informative notes by Craft, along with texts and translations for the vocal works, crown this much-needed addition to the Schoenberg catalog.

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