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Henze Guitar Music & Schoenberg Serenade, Variations & Bach Orchestrations
Naxos 8.557344 & 8.557522


These two desirable bargain CDs are linked by the attractively exotic sounds of plucked instruments, guitar and mandolin.


Henze has made a huge contribution to the guitar repertoire, notably his two Shakespearean themed sonatas, their composition prompted by Julian Bream. The second here (1979) comprises three character studies - of the gentle Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Bottom's serene dream, and the malevolent and volatile Lady Macbeth. Tours de force making extreme technical demands, not heard as often as the short Drei Tentos, now in every guitarist's repertoire, Franz Halasz, clearly in the fron t rank of today's virtuoso guitarists, plays them persuasively and makes vivid contributions to all the other works collected here.


The Styrian New Folk Songs and Shepherd's Melodies (1983-86) for guitar with bassoon (standing in for shawm) and strings makes for a very attractive piece which would be a hit for a chamber ensemble which has those instruments in its roster. Once caveat, a common one; no texts supplied for the three Holderlin song! This has to be unacceptable in 2006, and there are several possible solutions, the most obvious one to reduce the two full pages devoted to extensive CVs of each of the seven musicians (back to lessons at five and an appearance at 11) which occupy two full pages of the four in English. Another is to make texts available on the Naxos website for the increasing proportion of on-line music lovers.



The Schoenberg disc is another notable addition to the indispensible Robert Craft Collection; its budget price cannot match the dedicated work and time spent in mastering such complex music to so high a standard.


Renewing acquaintance with the Serenade some three or four decades on, it is amazing how comfortably melodic has become music which was formerly a hard nut to crack; stylishly played by the Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble it feels indeed one of those, Schoenberg no longer the bogey-man to 'ordinary' listeners that he was not so long ago.

Stephen Varcoe makes light of the angularities of the central Petrarch sonnet. Its text and translation is provided in the 16 page booklet, which has a detailed analysis of all the music by Robert Craft, which gives helpful signposting through the magnificent Variations for Orchestra.

A bonus is Schoenberg's orchestrations of Bach's St Anne's Fugue and two chorale preludes; far more acceptable nowadays than in the more austere 70s or so when such things were still frowned upon. Nowadays Bach is up for grabs, with an enthusiastic welcome yesterday to Joanna MacGregor's new orchestration of the Art of Fugue "no purist exercise - - full of surreally disembodied chords, wild brass interventions, sudden veiled reminiscences of a more elegant age, and then frantic jazz interludes" (The Times), one which bids fair to challenge Uri Caine's take on the Godberg Variations.


Enjoy these two CDs together as a pair; you won't easily find a better destination for a spare tenner.






© Peter Grahame Woolf