Webern: Lieder

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Webern
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Lieder
PERFORMER: Christiane Oelze (soprano), Eric Schneider (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 447 103-2 DDD
The voice was undoubtedly Anton Webern’s favourite instrument, and vocal music forms the bulk of his output. This disc contains nearly all his songs for voice and piano, and through them we can see Webern discovering and then transforming his style, from the rich Romanticism of the early sets to the lean, cool, but still wonderfully lyrical style of his last years. The turning-point comes suddenly with the 17th song, where Webern crystallises that style of nervous, hyper-expressive lyricism, so perfectly adapted to the moonlit, nostalgic moods of the German Expressionist poetry he set.

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The songs are all short, and with so many expressive leaps and falls, and so many ‘dying away’ endings, they can begin to sound precious. Christiane Oelze avoids this by performing them with cool, beautiful exactness, always with a marvellous limpid tone. Eric Schneider is similarly punctilious, scrupulously observing Webern’s detailed pedalling and dynamic markings. Dorothy Dorow, on her Etcetera recording of the same songs, takes a completely different approach. She can hit the notes as well as Oelze, but often chooses not to, swooping up to them or blurring them in a kind of semi-speaking style that brings them close to cabaret. It works marvellously and surprisingly well; but then so does Oelze’s approach, though perhaps in a more conventional way.