Webern: Five Pieces for Orchestra; Three Orchestral Songs; Symphony; Variations for Orchestra; Cantatas Nos 1 & 2; Das Augenlicht

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COMPOSERS: Webern
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Five Pieces for Orchestra; Three Orchestral Songs; Symphony; Variations for Orchestra; Cantatas Nos 1 & 2; Das Augenlicht
PERFORMER: Christiane Oelze (soprano), Gerald Finley (bass) BBC Singers, Berlin PO/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: 447 765-2
Deutsche Grammophon’s Webern series, with Pierre Boulez as its central figure, has proved well worth collecting, not least because, unlike Boulez’s earlier survey on Sony, it includes the completed pieces which the intensely self-critical Webern chose not to publish. Here we have five early orchestral miniatures and three songs discarded from a projected ‘song-symphony’, which match Webern’s published music of the time in their concentrated expressivity. But the main focus of the disc is on the major works of Webern’s last period, in which his serial technique achieved an extraordinary crystalline purity; and above all on the sequence of three progressively larger cantatas on mystic texts by Hildegard Jone.

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Throughout this programme, Boulez and his forces achieve not only calm, unflustered accuracy and clarity, but also – aided by a sympathetic recording in the Berlin Philharmonie – a consistent beauty which belies Webern’s old reputation for dry intellectualism. Oelze and Finley make real, expressive music of their angular melodic lines; the BBC Singers produce some stunning quiet sonorities; the Berlin players treasure every note. If you still need convincing that Webern has something special to offer, this is surely the recording to do it. Anthony Burton