Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, April 2009

When it comes to tempestuous premieres Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring gets all the press, even though Schoenberg’s Pelléas und Mélisande received a pretty hostile reception at its first night in Vienna eight years earlier. As with Le sacre it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about, but there are still those who consider Stravinsky and Schoenberg to be ‘difficult’ composers. Shrewdly, Naxos have embarked on a multi-volume Schoenberg series, in which key works are conducted by Robert Craft. Best known as Stravinsky’s amanuensis, Craft has made it his mission to promote and record the works of his master and those of the Second Viennese School.

This recording, originally released by Koch International, couples two of Schoenberg’s earlier works. The composer was unaware that Maurice Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas et Mélisande had already been set as an opera by Claude Debussy and premiered at the Opéra-Comique, Paris, in April 1902. Apart from being written as a symphonic poem, Schoenberg’s approach to Pelléas is radically different in other ways, condensing the story into a mere 40 minutes. As for Erwartung he chose another, grittier, tragedy, Marie Pappenheim’s dramatic monologue about a woman who murders her lover yet awaits a tryst with him.

In terms of its thrust and musical language Schoenberg’s Pelléas isn’t that different from Gurre-Lieder, the first part of which was completed by 1901. Both works share a post-Romantic sensibility and dramatic intensity, qualities that Craft points up very well indeed. (His recording of Gurre-Lieder is available on Naxos 8.557518-19) In both recordings the conductor’s approach is direct and unsentimental, the ever-flexible Philharmonia responding with playing of considerable weight and power.

Schoenberg’s real achievement in the four linked movements of Pelléas is that he captures every aspect of this Tristan-style drama—complete with leitmotivs—within what is essentially a traditional symphonic form. The tender love music will surely remind listeners of Waldemar and Tove in Gurre-Lieder, but really it’s Wagner that most comes to mind, especially those surging climaxes and transformation of key themes. The Philharmonia are superb throughout, commanding when they need to be—the evolving Fate motif, now for brass, now for higher woodwinds—and sensuous, too, in the music we associate with Golaud the husband and Mélisande the bride.

In terms of its incisive writing Schoenberg’s Pelléas could be the perfect antidote for those who find Debussy’s masterpiece too long and tremulous for their tastes…the Naxos sound is big and bold—if a little dry—which rather suits Craft’s robust view of these scores.

Limelight, November 2008

The challenges of Schoenberg present no difficulties in this recording; the evocative Pelleas und Melisande contrasts well with the tension-filled Erwartung.

Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News, November 2008

Schoenberg’s tone poem on Maeterlinck’s play “Pelleas und Melisande” appeared in 1905, three years after Debussy’s opera on the same play. In Schoenberg’s case and according to the composer, there were riots at the premiere (a grand old custom as modernism busied itself being born in the world’s theaters and concert halls). Listened to now, the late-Romantic masterwork is one of the four greatest and most approachable works by the composer whose 12-tone music would, for a half century, send composers down the most difficult blind alley in the history of classical music. (The others are “Transfigured Night” in both sextet and string orchestra versions, “Gurrelieder” and the opera “Moses und Aron.”) Stravinsky’s old amanuensis Robert Craft leads a fine performance with the Philharmonia Orchestra…

Philip Clark
Gramophone, November 2008

Robert Craft was put on this earth to produce clear blueprints of Schoenberg and Stravinsky scores. His take on Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande (1903) exemplifies his qualities: a clear sense of line from beginning to end, an ability to find orchestral perspective from within densely scored music and an ear for harmonic direction all come as instinct…As the performance gathers pace, however, Craft is swept along. The love theme is tenderly expressed (gorgeous playing from the Philharmonia’s lead oboist, too), and the climactic scene portraying Melisande’s death has appropriate gravitas as Craft resists over-dramatising and lets Schoenberg’s ominous harmonies tell their own story.

Anja Silja could hardly be more persuasive in Erwartung, Schoenberg’s 1909 monodrama for soprano and large orchestra. As Craft nattily puts it, the piece is “the interior monologue of a woman who has killed her lover with whom, nevertheless, she is expecting a tryst”. Silja is magnificent in conveying the tortured intensity of Schoenberg’s writing, and Craft accentuates those obsessive figurations that give the score its claustrophobic intensity. He notes that his is the first recording to include a viola solo that a copying error removed from an earlier edition. But don’t get too excited—it’s only a bar long., September 2008

This CD, originally released by Koch in 2000 and now part of the Naxos “Robert Craft Collection,” retains its power and intensity throughout…Craft and the Philharmonia fully convey its dark depths.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2008

“Reviews were unusually violent and one of the critics suggested putting me in an asylum and keeping music paper out of my reach”, was Arnold Schoenberg’s recollection of the first performance of Pelleas und Melisande in of 1905. Now we view it as part of the final apotheosis of the Romantic era that spilled over into the erotic sounds of the French Impressionist composers. It graphically relates the Pelleas and Melisande story used in Debussy’s opera, but opts for a very large orchestra that he builds the most complex mosaic of colours, layers of sound laid upon others in the way painters of the time used their oils. The death of Melisande is some of the most deeply moving music of that time and comes as the culmination of long episodes of tragic fate. Much was to happen in Schoenberg’s life over the next seven years leading to the composition of Erwartung, his growing fascination with the 12-tone serial method creating the Second Viennese School. It is a gruesome story of the woman who murders her lover, but still goes into the forest for their original tryst where she finds his still-bleeding corps. A dream or reality? It is the unanswered question. It is not a work that is easy to assimilate a hundred years on from its completion in 1909. It does, however, conjure-up the nightmare scenario of the story. The performance in both cases is excellent, the great German soprano, Anja Silja, having made Erwartung one of her most famous roles. Again a large orchestra is required, but here mostly used with restraint. The disc was originally recorded in 1999 and briefly appeared on the Koch International label. The Philharmonia were in superb form under the direction of Robert Craft. It is now becoming clear that he is one of the great Schoenberg exponents of our time, his recording of Gurrelieder—also available on Naxos—without equal on disc. Here he makes the complex strands of Pelleas both clear yet perfectly integrated, while avoiding the lush and mushy textures we find in the Karajan recording. Certainly one of the most desirable Schoenberg discs in the catalogue.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group