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Webern: Vocal & Orchestral Works

5 Pieces / 5 Sacred Songs / Variations /
Bach/Webern Musical Offering: Ricercar

Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble/
Philharmonia Orchestra/Simon Joly Chorale/Robert Craft
Tony Arnold & Claire Booth (sopranos)

Naxos 8.557531 [recorded 2007/2008]

This release of new Webern recordings, absurdly under-priced at Naxos's usual c.£6, is a 38-track cornucopia of key works by this seminal miniaturist at the heart of early 20th C innovation. There is now something of a rebellion against later modernist composers which have begun to sound tired, but Webern's jewel-like masterpieces remain ever fresh.

At first they were inordinately difficult for musicians and listeners, and many performances, as too of Schönberg's serial music, suffered in performance. Robert Craft has stuck to his metier, and his recordings of the 2nd Viennese school (alongside Boulez's) are likely to remain definitive.

Under Craft, the Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble,"a group of veteran New York new-music players who could just as well call themselves the Robert Craft All-Stars..." [The New York Times] play with confidence which evinces pleasure.

Whilst for copyright reasons not quite all the sung texts and translations are available, a particular pleasure in this collection is the singing of Tony Arnold - [q.v. her Kurtag Fragments]. Enjoyment of her contribution is enhanced for computer-listeners by the full texts and translations which can be accessed (and printed out if you wish) at http://www.naxos.com/sharedfiles/PDF/8.557531_sungtext.pdf.

The great Second Cantata is, however, described fully in the unusually comprehensive 16-page booklet with this release, and Claire Booth sounds equally accomplished in her contribution.

If the hackneyed phrase "an essential purchase" retains any meaning, it applies to this great CD.

Peter Grahame Woolf