The recording of Daniel Bonade arrived recently and I listened to it with increasing sensitivity to the scratchy quality of the recordings, all made between 1923 and 1947 with either the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Stokowski or the Cleveland with Artur Rodzinski. The familiarity of the orchestral excerpts after a lifetime of studying and memorizing them and hearing everyone play them in concert became very regular and even repititious until I was stopped….absolutely shocked by the quality of presence in the excerpt from the Violin Concerto by Alban Berg, composed in 1935 and this excerpt could be the first recording of the work.
The Violin Concerto by Berg (1885-1935) is one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century. It is composed in a modified 12 tone technic. This is composition utilizing an arbitrary tone row, a group of 12 tones, none of which is repeated and never with any octave. It is the technic first used by Arnold Schoenberg. The music of Alban Berg is more expressive than is that of Schoenberg and has always been very special because of this and because he actually wrote a work for the Clarinet, “Vier Stucke fuer Klarinet” in 1913, a work I have performed many times and for which I still have very strong feelings. The four pieces are also a work of theater, there being specific spaces signified by the composer between each piece, and the expressive power is significant considering the sparceness of material and their brevity. (perhaps five minutes for the for the 4 pieces in all). There is the first appearance of flutter-tongue, and echo-tones, as well as chords being heard on the piano but not struck. The Vier Stucke don’t seem to be played much anymore, and are certainly not audience pleasers, unless one happens to really love the freshness of intent in these little pieces.
The viiolin Concerto appears 20 years later and is dedicated to “the Memory of an Angel”. The dedication is for the daughter of the composer Gustave Mahler, who passed away from a painful ad debilitating disease.
The tone row that Alban Berg used in this works has for its last four notes a scale going up to a tritone, an augmented fourth, and this finds its way into the work in a very cogent manner.
Back to the exquisite playing of Daniel Bonade. Toward the end of the work, highly dissonant, grating in every way, especially to the ears of 1935, there appears signifying the end of the work and the end of the girls life, the Bach Choral “It is enough”, played by three clarinets in the harmonic style of Bach, totally tonal. It is absolutely shocking at this point of the Concerto. And it is this minute-long excerpt with Boande and the other players of the clarinet section of the Cleveland Orchestra at the time that is perhaps the most beautiful clarinet playing one will ever hope to hear.
The sound and the presence of the sound is as if the recording was made yesterday with the most modern of contemporary recording technics.
My wife and I have listened to this “cut” over and over again and we cannot get over how beautiful it really is.
This Berg excerpt is certainly worth the purchase of the recording which in itself has many lovely sections, the best of those being on the A clarinet, expecially in the Berg and the Shostakovich 1st and 5th symphonies. The sound is perfect, the intonation and especially the seamless quality of the legato make it indeed memorable.