Mélomaniac1ER COMMENTATEUR DU HALL D'HONNEURTOP 10 COMMENTATEURS le 23 mars 2009
La plus extrême concentration règne sur cette lecture des "Trois pièces" de Berg (ici jouées dans leur version révisée de 1929). James Levine cisèle la dynamique et le phrasé du moindre détail pianissimo, géométrise les "Reigen" avec une netteté sans débord, comme s'il leur imposait le regard analytique et désabusé des peintres de la « Neue Sachlichkeit », riche de sous-entendus. L'implacable interprétation du décadent cortège de "Marsch" tient l'auditeur en haleine tout en ne lui permettant aucune connivence émotionnelle avec ces féroces rictus, et nous rendant spectateur impuissant d'un drame insoutenable qui culmine dans les râles asthmatiformes des cuivres. Structuré par une impeccable organisation rythmique, le Berliner Philharmoniker matérialise des surfaces coupantes, en arrêtes vives, comme autant de facettes réfractant une scène d'horreur. Si l'on devait rattacher cette éprouvante interprétation à un style expressionniste, on en trouverait un équivalent pictural dans "La Nuit" de Max Beckmann.
Preuve d'une réelle cohérence esthétique que le maestro américain attache à ce répertoire, le minimaliste opus 6 de Webern est abordé avec la même décantation elliptique, terriblement désincarnée, où la séduction sonore s'insinue pourtant en creux. Le "Bewegt" exacerbe ici jusqu'à l'ahurissement la dynamique juxtaposée d'instants dérisoires et péremptoires. Le paysage de la "Marcia funebre" devient plus désertique que jamais, manifestant un graphisme presque abstrait. Notez ici l'incroyable précision dosée par les percussionnistes, stoppant net le crescendo suivi d'un abasourdissant silence.Lire la suite ›
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Stunning, canonical performances!19 mai 2011
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These 1986 recordings by James Levine and the Berlin Philharmonic are simply astonishing, and widely viewed as among the best performances of these Second Vienna School works. The works in question are from Schoenberg's atonal period, not the later 12-tone period. There are those who have a hard time grasping that Schoenberg mounted two revolutions, and that the first was the more fundamental.
The "5 Orchesterstucke op. 16" (Five Pieces for Orchestra) of 1909 is one of Schoenberg's masterpieces, and perhaps the most concentrated expression of the break with tonality (the vocal works "Erwartung," "Pierrot Lunaire" and "Die Gluckliche Hand" also come from this period). There is no system, just five glittering gems of pure imagination. Schoenberg was a good friend of the painter Wassily Kandinsky, and they carried out the revolution against representation together in the musical and visual realms of art, breaking through to total abstraction. Schoenberg's students Webern and Berg followed him twice, into atonality, and then later in the 1920s into his new 12-tone system (which couldn't leave fingerprints as it didn't yet exist). So Berg's "Wozzeck," for instance, is atonal, and his later "Lulu" is serialist, as 12-tone writing came to be called. Here we have Webern's "6 Stucke fur Orchester op. 6" from 1909, another brilliant atonal work even more compressed than Schoenberg's. Berg's "3 Orchesterstucke op. 6" from several years later (1914-5) is longer, larger, and more Mahlerian.
Levine is of course best-known as an opera conductor. He is celebrating 40 years at the Metropolitan Opera this year! But he has always included the Second Vienna School in his orchestral repertoire, as well as other modernist works, and so while not as definitively associated with these works as Pierre Boulez, he has a long, intimate knowledge of the music. These are arguably the best performances and recordings of the Schoenberg and Berg. The Boulez recordings should be heard as well -- the 1976 BBC Symphony Orchestra recording of "Five Pieces" on Sony especially is superb. (It's included in this 5-disc box -- see my review.) And I would say the best available "Six Pieces" by Webern is Dohnanyi's with the Cleveland Orchestra (see my review).
These works still sound radical today -- imagine what they sounded like in 1909! The break with tonality opened up vast spaces for the avant-garde. The 12-tone system, serialism, was one influential possibility within this space. Too much contemporary music for my taste seems inclined to limit its forays beyond conventional tonality to a pretty Debussian chromaticism. Schoenberg was bolder, and Levine leads the Berlin Philharmonic to some of the most powerful and convincing performances on record of this revolutionary music.
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Schoenberg's tree of 20th century orchestral music22 août 2009
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This collection, from DG circa 1987 and now reinvented through Arkiv Music's re-burn system, is one of few recording that puts together these orchestral pieces of 12 tone master Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) and his two most notable pupils, Alban Berg (1885-1935) and Anton Webern (1874-1951). With Hanns Eisler, they formed the Second Viennese School that revolutionized classical music in the early 20th century by reinventing sound through the dodecaphonic or 12 tone system.
The music here represented a revolution in 20th century thinking -- "beyond tonality," Schoenberg called it. These exercises in tonal painting and loose structure had never been heard before 1909. It led to development of the more structured 12 tone system. The works on this recording predate 12 tone though they bear its fingerprints.
Berg is the more romantic of three composers and, therefore, vents with more heart on sleeve affect. By comparison, Schoenberg's icy, cerebral pieces cut diagonally with Webern's piquant selections somewhere between the two. Webern's Six Pieces represent his feelings on his mother's 1906 death. His half-dozen pieces are more intellectually stimulating than the Berg but often lack similar emotional involvement. Schoenberg's Five Pieces are early German Expressionist utilizing a large orchestra to create compact, even small scale, ideas.
The performances, led by the young James Levine, are committed but not among the best, in my opinion. The Berlin Philharmonic plays well for Levine but the direction, while virile and direct, lacks the subtlety and nuance others bring to this music. In addition, Levine makes little or no effort to differentiate the three composers. While all on the same trail, they were very different personalities saying different things in the music.
Recordings coupling these three performances are rare, so it's difficult to recommend one with exactly the same concert. On Philips, Antal Dorati and Harold Lawrence recreate this program and throw in Berg's "Lulu" suite in performances that lack some of the same attributes as here but you can buy it used inexpensively. Karajan's overhyped, flatline performances sag in a different way; they are dull and monotonous.
I'd recommend anyone coming to this 20th century music start elsewhere. Simon Rattle, in his pre-Berlin days in Birmingham, recorded some of this repertory with Webern's popular "Lulu" suite in far more interesting and sympathetic performances. Levine himself did better with Berg's pieces and "Wozzeck" excerpts with the Met Orchestra. I think the Second Viennese School is better represented in either of these recordings than this one.