Bach, Webern

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bach,Webern
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Ricercar (orchestrated by Webern); Cantata, BWV 4
PERFORMER: Hilliard Ensemble, Munich CO/ Christoph Poppen
CATALOGUE NO: 461 912-2
Webern’s wonderfully refined orchestration of the Ricercar from Bach’s Musical Offering provides an intriguing backdrop to a disc that attempts to explore further links between the two composers. The parallels are most effectively drawn in the two extended works, Webern’s 1905 String Quartet and Bach’s Cantata Christ lag in Todesbanden, both of which utilise a subtle manipulation and variation of intervallic cells in order to express powerful feelings of loss and mourning. Inexplicably Webern refused to acknowledge the Quartet as a mature example of his art. Yet its impact is overwhelming, particularly as presented here in Christoph Poppen’s very effective arrangement for string orchestra, and in its new guise one could easily envisage it being performed as often as Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht.

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Given his vast experience as leader of the Cherubini Quartet, it is not surprising that Poppen inspires the Munich Chamber Orchestra to deliver wonderfully fluid and texturally imaginative accounts of both the Quartet and the more radical Five Movements. In the Bach, the Hilliard Ensemble provides marvellously understated singing even though diction is not always ideally clear. But the performance is as compelling as others on the disc.

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One might question the decision to open and close proceedings with the Bach-Webern Ricercar, but there’s little doubt that hearing it for the second time after traversing the musical journey of the other works is both enlightening and immensely rewarding. Erik Levi