Composer: Arnold Schönberg
Orchestra: Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Rundfunkchor Berlin
Conductor: Kent Nagano; Simon Halsey (17)
Number of Discs: 1 SACD-R
Bit Depth: 64(2.8 MHz/1 Bit)
Number of channels: 5.1, 2.0
Label: Harmonia Mundi
Size: 2.96 GB
Schönberg : Die Jakobsleiter
01. Friede Auf Erden – orchestral version
02. Oh Rechts, Oh Links
03. Gleichviel! Weiter!
04. Ich Suchte Die Schonheit
05. Du Bist Immerhin Zufrieden
06. Geboten Gehorchen
07. Dies Entweder Und Dies Oder
08. Alte Weisheit
09. Gegen Seinen Und Euren Willen
10. Ich Sollte Nicht Naher
11. Hier Hast Du Auge Und Ohr
12. Herr, Verzeih Meine Uberhebung!
13. Wie Du Doch Schwankst
14. Herr, Mein Ganzes Leben
15. Nahst Du Wieder Dem Licht?
16. (Singen Vorgeschriebene Laute
17. Friede Auf Erden – choral version
Dietrich Henschel – baryton (Gabriel)
Jonas Kaufman, Stephan Rugamer, Kurt Azesberger – tenors
Michel Volle, James Johnson – barytons
17: Rundfunkchor Berlin
dir. Simon Halsey
Part of a series of out-of-print releases from Harmonia Mundi.
Review from The Guardian
Schoenberg’s work-list is littered with incomplete scores. Many are fragments, a few bars that just peter out, but others are far more substantial, and some of those occupy pivotal positions in his creative development. The most famous of those large-scale torsos is his final opera Moses und Aron, of which just two of the projected three acts were completed and scored.
Schoenberg designed Moses as a summation of his life’s philosophy and his spiritual aspiration, and it’s fascinating to compare it with the oratorio Jakobsleiter (Jacob’s Ladder), his other major unfinished work, which had been intended as a similar manifesto 20 years earlier.
Jakobsleiter belongs to a period of Schoenberg’s development in which his musical language was evolving at top speed. He wrote the libretto between 1915 and 1917, and then he began the composition but after writing 600 bars he was called up for army service. That broke the creative thread: in the next four years he added only another 100 bars, and then abandoned the work altogether. His attempts to return to it at the end of his life, when he was living in the US, proved futile.
After Schoenberg’s death, his widow asked his former pupil Winfried Zillig to produce a full score from the short score of Jakobsleiter. Zillig scored it for the large Straussian orchestra that seems to be implied by the sketches, and that is the form, some 45 minutes of music, in which the work is heard today.
It is a curiously restless work, some of it as dynamic as anything Schoenberg wrote. The music is intensely theatrical and skirts the border between oratorio and opera. The text was derived from three literary sources – the narrative comes from the book of Genesis, overlaid with elements from Strindberg’s drama Jacob Wrestles, and Balzac’s novel Seraphita. The result is sometimes doggedly literary, but it is a summation of the white-hot invention in his musical achievements in the previous decade.
This very fine new version, framed by equally careful accounts of the orchestral and a cappella versions of the earlier choral work Friede auf Erden, comes on a Enhanced Super Audio CD, which allows the listener to follow Schoenberg’s autograph score, in which you can see the urgency with which the music was created. That is a thoroughly worthwhile exercise in its own right, but it is the sheer energy of this performance that is so striking. The orchestral playing and choral performances under Kent Nagano are first-rate, and the line-up of soloists, led by Dietrich Henschel’s Gabriel, is outstanding.
Review from Arnold Whittall at Gramophone
Schoenberg’s burning desire to do philosophical justice to those complex religious questions which preoccupied him for so long might not have left him with insoluble compositional problems, but it certainly didn’t help him to finish his large-scale musical attempts to tackle those questions. The non-completion of Die Jakobsleiter can be ascribed in part to such mundane factors as being called up for military service in 1917: yet it’s hard not to feel that Schoenberg needed to leave the oratorio unfinished, as a symbol of man’s eternally frustrated aspiration to grasp ultimate truths while still alive.
The mixed messages that result from the composer’s copious draftings, and occasional later efforts, to make what exists of the work performable, mean that no text can claim absolute authenticity, and scholars continue to debate the strengths and weaknesses of the version by Winfried Zillig (revised by Rudolf Stefan) which was first published in 1980. Pierre Boulez used this as the basis for a recording which, despite some excellent individual performances, couldn’t entirely conceal the conductor’s lack of empathy with Schoenberg’s heady brew of Balzac, Strindberg and Swedenborg. Kent Nagano and his admirable team capture the music’s combustible intensity as well as its high-flown spirituality, despite preferring a higher degree of song to ‘song-speech’ (Sprechgesang) than the composer probably wanted. But – listening to the ordinary CD version – I’m not persuaded that the way the soul soars free in the final stages, with a simplicity that any present-day Holy Minimalist could identify with, is a convincing outcome to the turbulent soul-searchings which precede this moment of release.
Characteristically, Schoenberg has left us with the problem rather than the solution, but Schoenbergian problems never fail to absorb the listener, and this well-integrated and effectively recorded reading is a worthy attempt at one of the composer’s boldest and most ambitious conceptions. Topping and tailing the oratorio-fragment with Friede auf Erden brings the enterprise gently down to earth. Both the orchestral arrangement and the a cappella choral version are done here with all the necessary fervour.
As always, if you are going to keep this SACD ISO and do not already own it in any format, please purchase a legitimate copy of the album in RBCD or another format. Sadly this SACD is out of print, and prices of it are inflated on the secondary market. Check out the links on the SA-CD.net product page.
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While Harmonia Mundi is certainly one of the larger independents out there, it is still a fairly small company devoted to recording great music, and it deserves your support. Fortunately, they make it pretty easy. Most of their US division’s DSD recordings are available as DSD downloads from NativeDSD in both stereo and multichannel. Their French division (really their home base) has mostly stopped releasing SACDs, but they recently released Rene Jacobs’s recording of the St. Matthew Passion as two SACDs and a DVD. It’s been uploaded here already, but it’s worth picking up a physical copy both to support the label and because it’s a fantastic package which can’t be fully captured through a download. Amazon link.
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