SCHOENBERG: Pierrot lunaire, Op. 21; Suite, Op. 29 – Alda Caiello, soprano/ Prazak Quartet members and friends – Praga Digitals multichannel SACD 250 276, 67:32 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Pierrot lunaire (Pierrot in the moonlight) is Schoenberg’s first masterpiece and probably still his most famous work. It perfected the use of Sprechstimme, or speechsong, and gave the composer a chance to personify his melodramatic instincts in a manner befitting his cabaret roots and interest in the expansion of atonality. Though still a full eight years away from genuine 12-tone pieces, Pierrot breaks in the audience while actively engaging their theatrical senses as well, perhaps blunting some of the more difficult musical moments by appealing to the eyes as well.
The work is a setting of twenty-one selected poems from Otto Erich Hartleben’s German translation of Albert Giraud’s cycle of 50 French poems of the same name. Highly evocative, and even toned-down in the German translation, it is easy to see how Schoenberg’s nascent post-romantic sensibilities were charged to the max while setting these exotic and flavorful texts for a highly concentrated chamber ensemble of five people plus a soprano. There have been a number or recordings of course; however, anyone in possession of Jan DeGaetani’s Nonesuch recording pretty much has the gold standard in hand. Though others are very fine indeed, none surpass hers. I am very angry at the people at Sony/BMG for sitting on yet another marvelous reading, that of the legendary Cleo Laine (in English) from 1974 on RCA, along with some Ives songs. That beauty was one of a kind, and even nominated for a Grammy award, yet the suits just sit on it, inexplicably. On this recording soprano Alda Caiello handles the difficulties very well, and while not as uniquely colorful as Laine or preternaturally sophisticated as DeGaetani, turns in a fine reading of great finesse.
The 1929 Suite is an odd one, essentially a piece for woodwind (clarinets) trio and string trio. The piece is unusual in that it is 12-tone but also reliant on a number of purely consonant intervals that lend it a strangely tonal feeling. It also is structurally very precise and clear, making this one of the easier 12-tone pieces of the composer to follow with normal “tonally”-oriented logic. The playing is superb, and this is an exceptional reading of a work which receives few performances because of the odd scoring. Schoenberg’s star, strangely enough, continues to rise after all these years.
Beyond special- Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul, the DELUXE version…