Webern: Passacaglia, Op. 1; Five Movements, Op. 5; Six Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6; Im Sommerwind; plus orchestrations of Ricercar a 6 from A Musical Offering

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Webern
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Passacaglia, Op. 1; Five Movements, Op. 5; Six Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6; Im Sommerwind; plus orchestrations of Ricercar a 6 from A Musical Offering
PERFORMER: Berlin PO/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: 447 099-2 DDD
Boulez the ardent modernist has always conducted Webern with the insight – and the hindsight – of a composer with very fixed views about where music should be going, and has already gone. Although he has relaxed his approach over the years, some of his interpretations retain a surprising number of the old certainties.

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Even a work such as the Op. 1 Passacaglia, still rooted in tonality, is, if anything, even more cool and razor-sharp in this new performance, despite the silken strings of the Berlin Philharmonic, than in Boulez’s earlier interpretation with the LSO on CBS/Sony; and not many conductors could turn in two performances with identical timings some twenty years apart. Sharp-focused recordings enhance the impression.

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Consistency and severity of vision, too, mark the renderings of Opp. 5 and 6 – both slightly quicker than before: the only truly mature Webern on a disc which in fact offers a fair introduction to the range of this composer’s output. Im Sommerwind – student Webern imitating Wagner, admittedly rather shortwindedly – is the longest work here. The Bach Ricercar is recoloured, by Boulez as well as by Webern, with loving, revealing care; the Schubert dances, rather ponderous stuff, are less successful. Keith Potter