VIENNESE MASTERS

Signum Classics (www.signumrecords.com) has just released a CD with early works of three masters of the Second Viennese School. The results are splendid.

ALBAN BERG

Even though this youthful work – written in 1910 and premiered in April of 1911 in Vienna – predated Berg’s great violin concerto and his opera, Wozzeck by a few years, one can clearly hear in the String Quartet No. 3, Op. 3 of Alban Berg the singular individuality of the 24-year-old composer, who moved out from under the controlling influence of his mentor with this groundbreaking work. Berg dedicated his emotionally charged composition to Helene Nahowski, his beloved wife.

Throughout the two movements of the work, the British-based Heath Quartet plays with a perfect balance of delicacy in the first movement and strength in the second, sustaining throughout with controlled intensity the impassioned music of the Viennese master.

ANTON WEBERN

Anton Webern’s Langsamer Satz defies any preconceptions one might have towards the music of one of the young firebrands of the Second Viennese School. A tonal work from start to finish, the one-movement composition, inspired by a walk in the countryside outside Vienna that the composer took with his fiancée, is peacefully bucolic, romantically tranquil, and eons away from Webern’s later minimalist compositions. As with their playing of the Berg quartet, the Heath Quartet members excel with their cohesiveness and elegance.

ARNOLD SCHOENBERG

The String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10 was composed and first performed towards the end of the first decade of the 20th century at a time when Arnold Schoenberg was experiencing marital troubles in his personal life, while in his professional life the creative ferment was at an all-time high. In this composition Schoenberg begins a gradual transition that started with his early tonal works, moved on to atonality, and eventually blossomed in his maturity, in twelve-tone compositions. 

Signum Classics secured the participation of the silver-voiced soprano Carolyn Sampson in this first album of the Heath Quartet to sing the poetry of Stephan George that Schoenberg added to the third and final movements of the String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10. With accuracy and beauty of tone, Carolyn Sampson offers a sensitive reading of Stephan George’s intensively spiritual text.

The three works included in the beautifully produced and engineered Signum Records SIGCD712 CD provide a fascinating musical roadmap to the experimental music scene in the Vienna of the first decade of the 20th century.

Rafael de Acha © 2022

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