Webern: String Trio, Op. 20; String Quartet, Op. 28; String Quartet (1905); Five Movements, Op. 5; Langsamer Satz

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Webern
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: String Trio, Op. 20; String Quartet, Op. 28; String Quartet (1905); Five Movements, Op. 5; Langsamer Satz
PERFORMER: Schoenberg Quartet; Sepp Grotenhuis (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10083
This disc contains nearly, but not quite all, of Webern’s music for string quartet and string trio. Missing are three tiny quartet pieces of 1913 – the first and last of them preliminary versions of two of the Bagatelles, Op. 9, and the middle one a vocal piece to a text by Webern himself – and a string trio movement of 1925. They are included on the Emerson Quartet’s DG recording, but if truth be told they are no great loss here, and in their place the Chandos disc offers the Four Pieces, Op. 7, for violin and piano and the Three Little Pieces, Op. 11, for cello and piano.

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These players are at their best in the slow, intimate numbers from the Bagatelles and the Five Movements, Op. 5, which they perform with meticulous care for detail. Elsewhere, alas, their interpretations are sadly lacking in intensity and drama, as well as technical security. Worst in this respect are the Op. 20 String Trio and late String Quartet, Op. 28 – bland performances utterly devoid of character or shape, and with a severely constricted dynamic range. Turn to the Emerson Quartet or the Artis, and the pieces suddenly spring to life. The Emerson’s performances are available only as part of DG’s complete Webern edition, leaving the Artis as the most recommendable of single-disc versions. Only its somewhat impatient account of the early Slow Movement of 1905 is less than wholly satisfying, though it’s still preferable to the rather etiolated tone on this disappointing newcomer. Misha Donat