Webern: Passacaglia, Op. 1; Five Pieces for Strings, Op. 5; Six Pieces, Op. 6; Five Pieces, Op. 10; Symphony, Op. 21; Variations, Op. 30

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Webern
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Passacaglia, Op. 1; Five Pieces for Strings, Op. 5; Six Pieces, Op. 6; Five Pieces, Op. 10; Symphony, Op. 21; Variations, Op. 30
PERFORMER: Ulster Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554841
Long gone are the days when orchestras approached Webern with trepidation, and quite right too: the Passacaglia is almost 100 years old, and clearly shows its roots in Brahms, as Richard Whitehouse points out in his excellent notes. Yuasa shapes it sensitively, with a keen ear for balance, though the strings are sometimes overpowered at the climaxes. But in the Op. 5 Pieces the detail comes through, as well as a sense of continuity, even as Webern begins to strip down his musical language. There’s real power in the funeral march from the Op. 6 Pieces, and, as the instrumental lines become more fragmented and the textures sparser, the individual players respond positively to their exposure. In the Op. 5 Pieces, Webern is at his briefest and most attenuated, and here I felt just a hint of nervousness in some of the difficult solo lines, but again, Yuasa’s sense of pacing and balance are fully in tune with the personality of the music. With the Symphony and Variations, we’ve reached the maturity of a great composer, and, especially in the last, the orchestra plays with real confidence and flair. The name of Webern may scare you, but this is beautiful music. Go on: risk a fiver. Martin Cotton

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