Webern: Works for string quartet and string trio (complete)

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COMPOSERS: Webern
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Works for string quartet and string trio (complete)
PERFORMER: Artis Quartet, Vienna
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5668
Webern’s chamber music for strings stretches throughout his career, from the lushly Romantic Slow Movement of 1905, through the vividly expressionist Five Movements completed four years later, to the lucidly canonic String Quartet of 1938. On the way, there are an early single-movement Quartet that shows the influence of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, the aphoristic Bagatelles, Op. 9 (‘Every glance can be stretched out into a poem, every sigh into a novel,’ wrote Schoenberg in his preface to the score, ‘but to express a novel in a single gesture, a joy in a single intake of breath – such concentration is found only where self-pity is lacking to a corresponding degree’), and the gritty String Trio, Op. 20.

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Of previous versions of this repertoire, the Emerson Quartet’s also includes preliminary versions of two of the Op. 9 Bagatelles, missing here, and a suppressed setting for soprano and string quartet expressing Webern’s anguish at the loss of his mother. The Emerson takes a broader view of the 1905 Slow Movement than the Artis Quartet, which sounds a little impatient with the piece. Elsewhere, however, the Artis is more than able to hold its own against the polished playing of its American rival – indeed, the warmth of the performances on this newcomer inclines me to put it forward as a first choice, particularly as the Emerson version is available only as part of DG’s 6-CD set of the complete Webern. Nimbus’s recording is as distinguished as the playing itself. Urgently recommended.