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CD Review

Anton von Webern

  • Symphony, Op. 21
  • Five Canons for Soprano and Two Clarinets, Op. 16
  • Three Traditional Rhymes, Op. 17
  • Three Songs, Op. 18
  • Trio, Op. 20
  • Quartet, Op. 22
  • Variations for Piano, Op. 27
  • Six Pieces for Large Orchestra, Op. 6 (Revised Version)
  • Four Pieces for Violin and Piano, Op. 7
  • Three Pieces for Cello and Piano, Op. 11
  • Concerto for Nine Instruments, Op. 24
  • Schubert, orch. Webern: German Dances
Jennifer Welch-Babidge, soprano
20th Century Classics Ensemble
Philharmonia Orchestra/Robert Craft
Naxos Robert Craft Collection 8.557530
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Webern and Naxos, a perfect combination; 80 minutes of concentrated music, a dozen works on 42 tracks for £5! You won't better that for value.

Quality assurance with an implied challenge is suggested in Robert Craft's note about the Symphony – "the best known of Webern's twelve-tone pieces (unfortunately in poor performances)".

My favourites included here are that symphony, with its eight variations taking 2½ mins, the piano variations (so tricky that Piotr Anderszewski abandoned the Leeds competition when he couldn'd get them quite right) and the chamber concerto. It is not always appreciated that Webern spent longer hours arranging other composers' music than writing his own; his orchestration of some of Schubert's German Dances represents that side of his work.

No longer sounding strange, with even the angular vocal lines negotiated fluently by Jennifer Welch-Babbage, this first volume is a fine way to acquire familiarity with music from the mid-thirties or earlier, pieces so compact that one wants to listen again to each concentrated movement straightaway. However, Craft's sequencing is excellent, so best first to play the CD through in groups, pausing perhaps after the string trio or the quartet with saxophone.

People who still find Anton Webern (1883-1945) impenetrable and unsympathetic should give him another try with Robert Craft's assistance, in charge of the Philharmonia Orchestra and a good team of American new music specialists aptly entitled the Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble.

Copyright © 2005, Peter Grahame Woolf