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Friday, August 31, 2012

Jakob Schoenberg, "Another Schoenberg"

The past is never really set in stone, except as the gravestones and monuments that remain with us from other eras. And even they can be toppled or fall into ruin. It applies to music as well as anything. Music history is in reality a fluid, plastic thing, subject to revisions and additions (and deletions) like any other form of knowledge over time.

Enter one Jakob Schoenberg (1900-1956), a composer with the same last name, of course, as the famous one. And then enter a two-CD set of his music, Another Schoenberg (Edition Hassler Profil PH 12023). Before hearing this new set I knew nothing of the composer, and I rightly suppose there are many others who didn't/don't as well. There are reasons we don't and this is not the place to go into that. But it is not for reason of the quality of his music, as this set makes quite clear.

The set covers some wonderful lieder and chamber music, impressively performed. If this set is representative, as I assume it is, much of his musical output reflects and pays tribute to his Jewish heritage, either directly or as a melodic-scalular backbone.

So we have a number of excellent song cycles in the set that rework traditional Hebraic song material. Soprano Tehila Nini Goldstein does full justice to the music, as do the chamber players involved as called upon.

In addition to the songs there is a "Hasidic Suite for Piano," a Sonata for Violin and Piano and a Piano Quartet. Throughout we hear music that is extraordinary in the various ways it combines an early modernism with Jewish tonality. This is no "also-ran" composer, but rather one to listen to closely and savor.

Jakob Schoenberg, in short, fully deserves our listening attention, at least in terms of the works included in this disk set. I hope we can hear in subsequent volumes, assuming there are scores available, his music for larger forces. In the meantime this one is a find! Hear it and you'll hear something very good indeed.

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