SCHOENBERG: Pierrot Lunaire
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SCHOENBERG: Pierrot Lunaire

spacer Resick; Ensemble, Yeh. Pro Organo BD 7266 (Blu-ray), DVD 7266 (DVD), 60 mins., subtitled 

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Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire poses a conundrum. Its dissonant scoring, its otherwordly Sprechstimme vocal line and its occasionally bloody imagery combine to create an atmosphere of dread. This was not quite the composer’s intention, but in the intervening century since the work’s premiere, the scores of a thousand horror films have influenced the way in which many of us hear dissonant music. The creators of this video version, a combination of documentary and live performance, have attempted to correct that, to reopen Pierrot Lunaire so it boasts the wider emotional scope Schoenberg desired. That they have not entirely succeeded is not their fault — it’s almost impossible — but they have given us a fine reading of the work as well as an insightful look into its depths.

Recorded last year on the stage of the Leighton Concert Hall in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at the University of Notre Dame, it stars Notre Dame voice professor Georgine Resick, who appears throughout in full Pierrot costume and makeup. Video director Frederick Hohman frequently brings his camera in, filling the screen with immense close-ups of Resick’s highly expressive face. Her vocal interpretation is of a holistic piece with her physicality; this reading is writ large, and it’s mesmerizing. Resick boldly chose to go against Schoenberg’s instructions for a rather detached delivery of the text. Instead, she infuses it with a broad range of emotions, harking back to the performing styles of the Expressionist era, to which Pierrot Lunaire was a precursor.

Resick and the attentive five-piece instrumental ensemble are sensitively led by conductor Tsung Yeh. Schoenberg wanted every performer in this piece to have equal weight, and Hohman emphasizes this by occasionally splitting the screen to show key instrumentalists playing in close tandem with Resick’s recitations. Though musical purists may object, the work’s three sections are interspersed with two ten-minute minidocumentaries comprising interviews with Resick, the musicians, Yeh and musicologist Joseph Auner, whose commentary on Pierrot Lunaire’s origins and meanings is perceptive and welcome. 

These interviews, plus a lavish thirty-six-page booklet containing historical photos, musician biographies and two lengthy essays, are all valuable tools for approaching and appreciating Pierrot Lunaire. The performance alone is of a very high caliber, but the entire package provides a roadmap to help lead us through one of modern music’s thorniest masterpieces. spacer 

ERIC MYERS

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