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COMPOSERS: Schoenberg/Webern
WORKS: A Survivor from Warsaw
PERFORMER: Gottfried Hornik (narrator); Men’s Choir of the Vienna State Opera Concert Chorus, Vienna PO/ Claudio Abbado
With the right encouragement the Vienna Philharmonic, most conservative of all the world’s famous orchestras, can play Schoenberg and Webern with an ease and instinctive sense of style no other band can match. Abbado is just that kind of encouraging and inspiring conductor, and their joint approach to this collection is a wonderfully idiomatic one which never wholly forsakes the 19th-century background from which the Second Viennese School set out to explore its new-found musical land.


The jumping-off point here is Webern’s Op. 1 Passacaglia in which Abbado beautifully balances the Brahmsian echoes against the highly wrought expressionist climax. The two sets of orchestral pieces – Op. 6 a series of studies in late-Romantic compression, Op. 10 ever more aphoristic statements purged of all traces of rhetoric – are given a jewel-like precision that enhances the lyrical beauty of the instrumental playing, while the Variations Op. 30 marry serial discipline to emotional directness with superb effect.


Set against the economical intensity of the Webern works, Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw, barely seven minutes long, comes to seem almost garrulous, even though the performance is refreshingly unhistrionic. More Webern – the Symphony and the Concerto, say – would have been a better choice: then the disc could truly have been an outstanding one. Andrew Clements