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This is the second in the series which sees Trevor and the Academy perform and record works which are retrospectively reigniting Schoenberg's vision of performing chamber reductions of symphonic repertoire. This brand new edition was commissioned by Royal Academy of Music Principal Jonathan Freeman-Attwood who asked composer Anthony Payne (of Elgar's Third Symphony fame) if he would adopt the principles of Schoenberg's Society in a new version of this symphony.
Whilst employing a slightly larger ensemble than the core group used by Schoenberg, this scoring serves to reveal the luminescent appeal of a little-known nineteenth-century masterpiece—whilst also extending Schoenberg's and his pupils' practice of refined intimacy. Upon hearing the recording Anthony Payne remarked ‘the arrangement exceeded my most extravagant expectation … performed magnificently under Trevor Pinnock's direction by one of the finest chamber groups I've heard.'
Rounding off this recording is Strauss' Wein, Weib und Gesang arranged by Alban Berg, whose own pieces were regularly performed by the Society.
A 24-bit 192 kHz studio master for this album is available from the Linn Records website.
Quality of execution through careful preparation was matched by a discriminating presentation of the works of eminent living composers, whose musical creations were often refashioned for the Society in manageable chamber scorings. A wide variety of pieces by Ravel, Debussy, Bartók, Mahler, Johann Strauss, Webern, Berg and Schoenberg were all regularly heard in a chamber idiom of winds, string quintet, piano and, crucially, the Society’s ‘signature’ harmonium. The experiment was short-lived. It barely lasted three years but its legacy is an interesting one, not least for an evocative, alternative landscape it offered to now-established masterpieces and the generosity by which composers honoured and ‘critiqued’ their fellow artists, through arrangements which distilled the very essence of the musical language in this micro-oeuvre. That this music could be presented with such finely drawn lines and in such favourable conditions allowed fine works to resonate in challenging ways which ultimately celebrated their most durable characteristics.
Of special interest to Schoenberg was the potential for getting to the heart of a large orchestral work through the intimacy and flexibility of single instrumental ‘voices’ interacting as if the works were conceived as chamber creations. This principle cast a magic spell on reworkings of pieces such as Mahler’s Symphony No 4, Das Lied von der Erde and Debussy’s L’aprés-midi d’un faune (also recorded for Linn by Trevor Pinnock and the Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble).
The challenge continues in this latest ‘premiere’: Bruckner’s Symphony No 2 in C minor. I asked composer Anthony Payne (of Elgar’s Third Symphony fame) if he would adopt the principles of Schoenberg’s Society in a new version of this symphony. We might imagine Bruckner to be a bridge too far within this aesthetic though, actually, Bruckner’s Symphony No 7 was reworked in 1921. Our retrospective appraisal of this earlier gem arguably merits even greater attention as we identify, through adopting the ideals of the Society, an especially coherent ensemble work, one with a fresh and perhaps even more pervasive Schubertian dialect than Bruckner’s original canvas for full orchestra.
Whilst employing a slightly larger ensemble than the core group used by Schoenberg, we hope that this scoring serves to reveal the luminescent appeal of a little-known nineteenth-century masterpiece—whilst also extending Schoenberg’s and his pupils’ practice of refined intimacy. Yet, unlike Schoenberg, we aim to disseminate the pieces as widely as possible. You may applaud and you are permitted to read this note.
Jonathan Freeman-Attwood © 2014
Two factors dominated my thought and inspiration as I prepared Bruckner’s Symphony No 2 for performance. The first was my image of him improvising in the great church of St Florian. I could almost hear him experimenting with the elements of the Symphony which he may initially have presented in improvised form on the organ at Crystal Palace in August 1871. The second was the discovery of Bruckner’s own manuscript score which I was amazed to find freely available on the internet. The hours spent with this precious document revealed much about Bruckner’s alliance of visionary material and a classicism traceable to Schubert. The score includes his own meticulous corrections of phrasing and many of his pencilled early revisions. I was also struck by his numbering of bars into units, which I took to be less indicative of his known obsession with numbers than of his desire to keep his far reaching musical ideas within a strict classical framework.
In choosing a performing version I had to make a judgment on the many revisions that Bruckner made to the original text in 1873 and 1877, with the encouragement of his friend Herbeck, and subsequently in his final revision in the 1890s. Good editions are now available of most of the different stages of revision although I have yet to see one which incorporates a radical reworking of the central section of the slow movement pencilled into Bruckner’s manuscript score. I have chosen to adopt some of the composer’s later adjustments which seemed especially well-suited to this performance with a chamber ensemble. Bruckner’s visit to London in 1871 was clearly a happy one. He received enthusiastic acclaim for his virtuoso playing and commented that ‘In England my music is really understood’. I believe that his Symphony No 2 deserves to be better known and I am delighted to present it with the outstanding Royal Academy Soloists Ensemble in this remarkable chamber arrangement by Anthony Payne.
© Trevor Pinnock, 2014
About the commission
Standing in the Academy’s foyer after another entrancing Sunday morning Bach cantata programme, I was button-holed by the Principal, Jonathan Freeman-Attwood. I didn’t realise that I was about to lose my next five months’ composing time, as he captured my interest with his plan to resurrect the idea of Schoenberg’s Society for Private Musical Performance, concentrating on those notable chamber arrangements of what were for the time (1918) rarely heard orchestral masterpieces (Mahler’s Symphony No 4, Debussy’s L’aprés-midi d’un faune, etc). Then, like a bolt from the blue came the question, how would I like to extend the tradition by contributing an arrangement myself. I held my ground, ‘Like what, for instance?’ ‘What about Bruckner’s Second Symphony?’ came the reply. I was stunned. As it happened this was the only Bruckner symphony I’d never heard, and while admiring much of this composer’s work, I did not consider myself a committed Brucknerian. I gulped and said I’d have a look at it.
I acquired a score and recording, and quickly came to the conclusion that despite Bruckner’s massive orchestral effects, a chamber arrangement for judiciously chosen forces was a distinct possibility. As is often the case with pre-twentieth-century German music, the basis of the orchestral texture was the string sonority, and if I could replace that aspect of the score with, say, a sextet of two violins, two violas, a cello and a double bass, I would be well on the way to solving my problem. The wind and brass sonorities in Bruckner also provide an exciting presence of course, but I felt they could be represented with a bold central core of flute and oboe with pairs of clarinets, bassoons and horns, plus a single trumpet and trombone supported by harmonium and piano to imply more than was actually present in the line up.
I decided to accept the commission, but feared the amount of hard work involved at a time when other commitments were hanging over me. I am an unrepentant luddite, and have never reconciled myself to the use of computer programmes to speed the process of producing a full score. This was to be a hand-written job, and the symphony consisted of some 1,750 bars. ‘Well dear reader’, as Charlotte Brontë might have said, ‘I completed it’, and during the course of five months’ hard labour came to admire the symphony enormously. Certainly, I now think it structurally the tightest of Bruckner’s earlier symphonies. Performed magnificently under Trevor Pinnock’s direction by one of the finest chamber groups I’ve heard in the Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble, the arrangement exceeded my most extravagant expectations, and I owe to all concerned my heartfelt gratitude.
Anthony Payne © 2014