WORKS: Piano Quintet; Entflieht auf leichten Kähnen, Op. 2; Lieder; Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 10; Quartet, Op. 22; Concerto, Op. 24
PERFORMER: Françoise Pollet (soprano) Christiane Oelze (soprano) Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)BBC Singers, Ensemble InterContemporain/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: 437 786-2 DDD
It is 25 years since Boulez recorded the complete works of Webern for CBS – a pioneering three-disc set still available from Sony. Its starting point was Webern’s first published score, an orchestral passacaglia; but this new disc begins a few months before that official Op. 1, with a gently Expressionist single-movement Piano Quintet which, at 13 minutes, is by far the most expansive item included. Schoenberg once likened Webern’s achievement to that of expressing a novel in a single gesture; and of the forty-odd remaining individual pieces here, the longest barely exceeds three minutes, while the most condensed – the fourth of the Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 10 – consists of no more than a half-dozen highly charged bars.
Boulez and the Ensemble InterContemporain have been steeped in this repertoire for decades, and their experience shows in the fluency of these performances. Françoise Pollet’s warm and intense singing is an invaluable asset – I prefer her even to the admirable Heather Harper on the old CBS set – but Christiane Oelze, although she negotiates Webern’s uncompromisingly angular vocal lines with commendable accuracy is, unfortunately, a shade pale and colourless.
Somebody, incidentally, ought to have spotted the serious lapse of ensemble between bars 55 and 60 in the second movement of the Op. 22 Quartet. Misha Donat