Pi-Hsien Chen - Arnold Schonberg (Works for Piano) (Music CD)

Release Date: 27 June 2011
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The performances of dissonance's great architect, Arnold Sch�nberg, reveals something unnoticed, or at least uncommented upon by others playing and/or writing about this material on previous recordings: that, of the six major piano works he composed between 1894 and 1931, each of them reflects deeply on his musical discontent with the past and foreshadow directly his next chamber or orchestral moves. While it's true that in "Drei Klavierstuck" (1894) we hear little of the atonal series of notes that came in his next work, in 1909, where we can hear Pi-Hsien Chen's performance, is the dismantling of Wagner's already systemic approach to disengaging harmony from Beethoven, not to bring it back, but to further accent the tenuousness of a harmonic system that does not work to free itself from tonal captivity. We can hear this best in the fragment studies included at the end of each major piece that presage the next. For instance, before "Drei Klavierstuck," Op. 11, 1909, there are six such fragments that precede the actual work, all composed between 1900 and 1909. The gradual reduction of harmony to its essence and reconstruction into something that contains all of Western music's developmental idea on the subject thus far, and an extrapolation on what he perceived their shortcomings to be. Opus 11 marks the first of the "atonal" piano pieces, and some argue the first atonal work ever recorded. As evidence of his piano works -- no matter how small -- signifying major changes in his compositional strategies, this work contains the presages of two important orchestral works, "Pierrot Lunaire," Op. 21, and "Funfe Orchestrucke," Op. 16. There are two fragments which follow this sonata composed in that same year and in 1910, respectively, that offer the germination of the idea for "Sechs Kleine Klavierstuck," Op. 19, 1911, perhaps the most beautifully spectral of Schulenburg's piano sonatas. Hear are the complaints of the composer's notion that there needed to be an "emancipation of dissonance," citing Wagner's Tristan as the very terrain upon which modern dissonance had made an acceptable and even sought-after appearance. But here Sch�enberg highlights the more haunted side of his note system. By the third of these sonatas, Anton Webern and his radical notion of a 12-tone system bearing out Sch�enberg's theories had appeared under the composer's tutelage. Opus 23, "Funf fur Klavierstuck," composed between 1920-1923, reveal the entire tonal range of the 12-tone system and its new braches of harmonic theory coming into play in a major work. Again, on this recording the three preceding fragments offer an intimate look at its development microtonally as well as architecturally. Pi-Hsien Chen has given us the microscopic look into the compositional world of Sch�enberg via not only his major works, which all six of the sonatas are a part of, but their incremental developmental stages, their links to one another in the creation of 12-tone or serial composition, and their full fruition by the time of 1936, "Fur Klavierstuck," Op. 33a and 33b, where the piano constructs a musical vision of the mystical and descends back into itself as if it were contained within the human hear for eternity and a day. His performances are sensitive -- perhaps a bit too, in some places -- and render a profound understanding of the material. The recording quality is Hat's typical top-notch chop with the sound being warm and resonant even in the high register; a fine job all around. ~ Thom Jurek
Release Date: 27 June 2011

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Catalogue No: HATN184