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Patricia Kopatchinskaja - Schoenberg: Pierrot lunaire - The Times

Considering the startling sounds when Patricia Kopatchinskaja plays her violin, it’s only to be expected that the jolts continue when the instrument is locked in its case. On her latest album this maverick only picks up her bow for track 22 and beyond. Before that she’s the singer-speaker who navigates the flexibly pitched vocal line in Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire of 1912 — still the most famous showcase for the expressionist technique of sprechgesang, or spoken singing.

She certainly offers a striking interpretation of the poems by Albert Giraud — 21 absurd dreamscapes haunted by the clown figure Pierrot, the moon, blood and much else. I’ve never heard them delivered with so many screams,shudders, croaks or growls. This isn’t a song cycle any more; it’s a music-theatre madhouse — a risky development for a work in which Schoenberg wanted equality between his vocalist and small group of instrumentalists. Sometimes Kopatchinskaja is too loud; mostly she’s too quiet, muttering in the undergrowth behind the writhing clarity of the ensemble’s violin, flute, clarinet, cello and piano.

Still, we can certainly clap her bravura. And there are always the 13 eloquent other tracks, all Viennese, mostly atonal but crowned with a deliciously poised account of Schoenberg’s airy chamber arrangement of Johann Strauss’s Emperor Waltz.

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The Times
16 April 2021