Iona Brown and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra make their debut on Chandos with this recording of Schoenberg’s sumptuous Verklärte Nacht, and the rarely heard ’Death and the Maiden’ Quartet in Mahler’s arrangement.
Schoenberg was born in Vienna in 1874 and died in Los Angeles in 1951. His early life was a struggle, and he survived by orchestrating thousands of pages of other people’s theatre music and by conducting three orchestras. He was encouraged and guided by Zemlinsky and his influence can be seen in the emotionally charged ’Wagnerian’ string sextet Verklärte nacht (Transfigured Night), his first important work, composed in 1899. This symphonic poem was inspired by the fin-de-siècle writings of Richard Dehmel: on a starlit night a woman reveals her infidelity to her lover, who nevertheless agrees to cherish both her and the other man’s child. It was composed as a string sextet, but is often performed in a larger string arrangement as is recorded here. It is a brilliant exercise in string sonority, iridescent colour, daring harmony and large-scale structure - an example of form and poetry held in perfect balance.
Schubert’s sublime D minor Quartet is, of course, one of the great masterpieces of the chamber music repertoire. It was composed between 1819 and 1824 during one of the composer’s most difficult periods: his hopes as a stage composer were fading and his health was also failing him, with a seemingly incurable illness. The Quarter reflects his emotional state in its sombre tone, passionate expression, dramatic effects and driving rhythms, battling against fate itself. This is offest by some wonderfully yearning lyrical passages which Schubert was so often able to produce. The ’Death and the Maiden’ title stems from the fact that the theme of the Andante con moto is taken from his own setting of a song based on Matthias Claudius’s text in which Death appears to a young girl in the guise of a lover and calms her fears. This movement represents the heart of work, mingling the sense of ineluctable fate with the sweetness of life itself. This recording uses Mahler’s orchestration.