Move Records MCD 513. 10,000 word accompanying essay on the Move website
Reviewed by John Weretka, November 2nd, 2015
Looks can be deceiving. Move Records’ recording of Danaë Killian playing the complete works by Schoenberg for piano comes in a case so slender that a label can’t fit on its spine. It also comes without a booklet, although one can be downloaded at the Move website. Given these facts and given that what Killian has to say on the experience of playing Schoenberg’s music will provide only limited insight into the historical and musical context of the music — that is, it is very far from your standard CD programme note, deeply insightful as it is — it is all the more impressive that Killian’s playing is so rich and revelatory of Schoenberg’s musical thought. We are left profoundly aware of the fact that this pianist has spent, as the programme note itself says, her entire life thinking about and studying Schoenberg’s music.
The piano music on this recording charts that critical moment in the composer’s life when, having left behind the rich late Romanticism of which works such as Verklärte Nacht is an example, he embarked on that exploration of atonality and finally serial chromaticism that would affect twentieth-century music so deeply. The works are presented in strictly chronological order — the Drei Klavierstücke and Sechs kleine Klavierstücke belonging to the ‘second’, atonal period of Schoenberg’s life and the Fünf Klavierstücke, Suite and two Klavierstücke of Op. 33 belonging to the third — and listening to them in that order is deeply instructive. Killian has elected not to record the Brahmsian works of the 1890s — no great loss in itself, as even by the most charitable estimations they are reasonably weak works — but their omissions skews somewhat the view of Schoenberg that Killian presents in favour of Schoenberg as radical and iconoclast.
Killian’s playing of this music is deeply sympathetic to the full range of nuance of Schoenberg’s writing, and deeply respectful in particular to the manifold markings of dynamic, tempo and accent that give Schoenberg’s music its own brand of febrile motility. One is struck especially in Killian’s hands not so much by the changing nature of Schoenberg’s tonal materials but by the deeply inventive way in which he is prepared to treat texture. Killian’s acute reading of the texts, and the sensitive way in which Move has recorded her, make a strong case for Schoenberg as a thinker on the textural parameters of music critical to twentieth-century sensibilities.
This is a very great achievement and a valuable addition to the Schoenberg discography.