KENNETH KARLSSON = the view was all in lines = ROLF WALLIN: Seven Imperatives; SCHOENBERG/ SCHAATHUN /WALLIN: Zwölf kleine klavierstücke; SCHAATHUN: Transcriptions of an Unknown Symphony; SCHAATHUN: Stravinsky goes Bach and Schaathun goes Frescobaldi; WALLIN: Etude 3; SCHOENBERG: Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, Op. 19 – Kenneth Karlsson, piano – 2L multichannel SACD 085, 63:43 [Distr. by Naxos] ***1/2:

You have to give 2L a lot of credit; their surround sound is state of the art, occasionally without peer; and they do make really creative attempts at programming, spanning the spectrum of style and type. Often traditional, other times quite modern. Here we have an example of the latter, to an extent, in that the entire disc seems inspired, directly and indirectly by the Op. 19 Six Small Piano Pieces. Schoenberg’s intention here was to abandon his much beloved romantic forebears and find a music that was simpler in concept and expression. Even though he was caught in the net of a work like Gurrelieder at the time, it did not stop this new and active pursuit. He must have realized that romantic expression was nearing its nadir—indeed he is one of the composers who hastened its end.

The first five of the six were composed in one day. The sixth was added almost as a “tomb” piece the following four months later in June, after the death of Mahler. While the works are not technically atonal they certainly drift, but the work remains the first of a short but essential list of piano music that the composer would create, which also included his first efforts in twelve-tone composition. They are all masterpieces of the type. The performance here is quite good, subtle, and significantly introverted in a way that the Op. 25 Piano Suite, for instance, is not.

The two other composers represented on this disc were each asked to create—also in one day—three pieces each to match Schoenberg, and the music was then interspersed among the master’s suite. It doesn’t really work—while the individual efforts contain some good music, the idea of merging them with Schoenberg makes little sense and detracts from both, even though the new works are supposed to be “commentaries” on the Schoenberg.

But the disc opens with Rolf Wallin’s Seven Imperatives and despite the demanding and almost boastful title, I found the music imperative indeed, fully matching the titles each movement gets: Seek, Push, Sink, Spin, Stab, Lean, and Quit. Wallin’s creative force comes into fierce play here and makes for some fine listening. His Etude 3, one of four created, is a fine work though not as convincing.

Asbjǿrn Schaathun’s Transcriptions of an Unknown Symphony is a commission by pianist Karlsson from 2003 that is dense, colorful, and quite virtuosic, it catches one from the beginning and easily keeps the attention through its full 16-minute length. Stravinsky goes Bach and Schaathun goes Frescobaldi is a tribute piece to the influence that Stravinsky has had on the composer with the former’s inclusion of quotes from Bach this time turned into a style reminiscent of Frescobaldi—well, sort of. It works well and makes for a nice miniature.

Interesting disc—not for everyone—but certainly for many. The performances are all one could ask for.

—Steven Ritter