Arnold Schoenberg liked to complain that his name wasn’t well enough known. He
would have had a ball on Sunday afternoon, when the Schoenberg Quartet from The
Netherlands played a Schoenberg quartet at UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall, with a
contingent from U.S.C.’s Schoenberg Institute also in attendance.
The group has played here before, most recently in 1989 at U.S.C. Since then,
however, a new cellist has come aboard, the dynamic Viola De Hoog, and it has
made a difference. There was none of the sense of ho-hum another concert about
their playing this time. Anything but, in fact.
The program was curious: three works written within five years: Schoenberg’s
First Quartet of 1905, Anton Webern’s Five Pieces from 1909 and the Opus 3
Quartet by Alban Berg from 1910. The choice propounded an interesting study in
middle-European romanticism in its hysterical twilight, but it may have
actually been too much of a not-quite-good thing.
Both the Berg, which runs 15 minutes and the Schoenberg, which lumbers along at
45, trace and retrace pretty much the same ground. The echoes of Wagner’s
“Tristan” have not died down, but the whole sense of tonality has begun to
come apart. A tendency to screech when a softer cry might have sufficed: that
is the frequent flaw in both works. Would either have survived in the repertory
if their creators hadn’t gone on to greater achievements? That is one of
music’s recurrent nagging questions, and it could have been asked more than
once at this concert.
The Schoenbergs specialize in this music, and they gave it the full feverish
treatment, even at the points where a drier, more reticent approach — such as
the way the late, lamented LaSalle Quartet performed on their complete
recording — might have brought out more in the music. By far the lapidary,
tiny, glittering Webern pieces fared best. For once, the performance and the
music were properly matched.
Preceding the concert was the first local showing of “Arnold Schoenberg: My
Evolution,” a 50-minute film created by UCLA’s Office of Instructional
Development to piece out visually a recording of a speech Schoenberg had given
on campus in 1949. Fascinating and valuable stuff; the world suffers in that
recording technology was invented so late in the history of the arts. A similar
recording from Mozart or Beethoven might have lightened the scholars’