New release: Schoenberg Violin & Piano Concerti with Wiener Philharmoniker

Peral Music—Daniel Barenboim’s digital record label “for the thinking ear”—is proud to release the Vienna Philharmonic’s debut recordings of Arnold Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto and Piano Concerto, featuring the iconic composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, and violinist Michael Barenboim. The new release captures the esteemed Vienna Philharmonic’s first performances of both works.

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Dating from 2005 and 2012, these are the Vienna Philharmonic’s first recordings of two of Schoenberg’s works: the Piano Concerto with Daniel Barenboim under Pierre Boulez and the Violin Concerto with Michael Barenboim under the direction of his father.

The Vienna Philharmonic has enjoyed a close bond with Schoenberg’s music, since he himself conducted two performances of his Gurre-Lieder in 1920 and afterwards wrote a personal letter of thanks, expressing his gratitude to the musicians for their work together. Since then there have been more than 100 performances of his works, and the orchestra even played an important part in the foundation of the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna in 1998.

It is all the harder to believe that the Vienna Philharmonic had never previously played either of these two works. For Daniel Barenboim the orchestra’s performances of Schoenberg’s music are full of “tenderness, good-natured informality and naturalness.” Their “playing is very much inspired by the venue.”

This makes it all the more inconceivable that these works by arguably the greatest composer of the 20th century, and a native of Vienna to boot, had been overlooked by the orchestra for so many years.

It was not until 2005 that Pierre Boulez conducted the Vienna Philharmonic’s first performance of Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto, when the soloist was Daniel Barenboim. Seven years later Barenboim returned with his son Michael and the two of them gave the first performance of Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto op. 36 with the orchestra. “Highly explosive music,” Michael Barenboim describes Schoenberg’s piece: “Every bar is aflame.” The work’s difficulties are plain. When it received its first performance in 1940, the composer’s daughter, Gertrud Greissle, remarked that “The difficulties are not purely intentional, but they are unavoidable.” Even today the virtuosity of Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto instils a sense of awe in many violinists. For a time Jascha Heifetz regarded the work as unplayable.

But for Barenboim, “Where other orchestras wrestle with the difficulties, the Viennese may do so as well, but they then discover themselves in the music, and this is really wonderful.”