WebernSchubert

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: WebernSchubert
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Webern & Schubert
WORKS: Orchestral Music
PERFORMER: Jennifer Welch-Badidge, Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble, Philharmonic Orchestra, Robert Craft
CATALOGUE NO: 8.55753
This generously filled disc marks the start of Robert Craft’s complete Webern cycle. As an inexpensive means of dipping a toe into this finely chiselled repertoire it has much to recommend it, though the performances and recordings are of variable quality. Craft is not at his best in the more Mahlerian side of Webern, and his account of the Six Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6 – perhaps the best known work here – is rather dry and inelegantly shaped. It’s not helped, either, by a balance that brings harp and celesta too much to the fore. Many conductors – among them Boulez, Abbado and Levine, all of whom have recorded fine versions for DG – prefer Webern’s opulent original scoring; but Craft, like Simon Rattle on his superior EMI account with the CBSO, opts for the more refined 1928 revision.

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More successful here are the Op. 21 Symphony, and such unconducted items as the String Trio, Op. 20, and the Quartet, Op. 22, for saxophone, violin, clarinet and piano (though the attempt to reproduce Webern’s improbably fast metronome marking in the finale of the latter inevitably sounds somewhat garbled). Jennifer Welch-Babidge negotiates the cruelly demanding soprano part of the various canons and songs skilfully, but she can’t match the warmth and expressiveness of Christiane Oelze on the Boulez recording. Christopher Oldfather gives a decent account of the Op. 27 piano Variations, though others – notably Piotr Anderszewski – have found greater depth in the music, and an editing blunder has inserted a phrase in the first movement twice over. Misha Donat