Webern: Frühe Lieder; Fünf Lieder nach Gedichten von Richard Dehmel; Lieder, Opp. 3, 4 & 12

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COMPOSERS: Webern
LABELS: Capriccio
WORKS: Frühe Lieder; Fünf Lieder nach Gedichten von Richard Dehmel; Lieder, Opp. 3, 4 & 12
PERFORMER: Mitsuko Shirai (mezzo-soprano), Hartmut Höll (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 10 862
It’s no mere chance that, of Webern’s 31 published compositions, 17 are settings of words. The composer’s passage from tonality to atonality and on to the crystallisation of 12-note writing was, indeed, propelled by his song-settings: some would say the entire 12-note movement itself had its genesis in the human voice. So this is a particularly revelatory recital, following Webern from his Early Songs at the very start of the 20th century, through to the prismatic Strindberg and Goethe settings of 1915-17.

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Mitsuko Shirai, singing in that low, dusky underside which is now the most expressive part of her mezzo, distils the ardent lyricism from the earliest songs of night and twilight. From the Opp. 3 and 4 Stefan George settings which are Webern’s first experiments in atonality, this distillation becomes total: these are songs of extreme emotional privacy and extreme textual concentration – even to the extent that there are now no English translations in the booklet! So the listener is left isolated and exposed to the minutest nerve flickerings of Nature, recreated so perceptively by both Shirai and Hartmut Höll. And, in the Op. 12 songs, nothing comes between the listening ear and Shirai’s sentient, sometimes startling response to a tiny folksong goodnight, or to the etiolated angst where Webern meets Strindberg. Hilary Finch