Classical Music: Replay

Webern: Works for orchestra Cleveland Orchestra/ Christoph von Dohnnyi (Recorded: 1991-1993) (Decca 444 593-2)
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Webern's orchestral oeuvre ranges in scope from the Straussian luxuriance of Im Sommerwind (the disc's longest work and a great quiz item) to the finely chiselled intricacies of the Variations, Op 30. Best known are the two sets of Pieces - Op 6, crowned by a massively crescendo- ing "Funeral March", and Op 10 with its cut-diamond third movement.

Everything relates to form, context and the painstaking avoidance of unnecessary repetition. The Symphony, for example, is a veritable masterpiece of compression. Annotator Calum MacDonald relates Otto Klemperer's reaction to a piano performance by Webern himself where every note was invested "with more profound emotion than the great conductor believed he could ever secure from an orchestra".

Indeed, Christoph von Dohnnyi displays something of Webern's perceptive interpretative style (as suggested in the old recordings of Berg and Schubert), shaping the final moments of Im Sommerwind with exquisite sensitivity, muscling in among the Passacaglia's Mahlerian tutti and attending to the variously textured strands of the Musical Offering's "Fuga ricercata a 6" with a fastidious ear for detail. Webern transforms Bach's contrapuntal masterpiece into an aurally illuminated mosaic: the colours are subtle but clear, the playing superbly accomplished, and the recording excellent. Anyone in search of an "essential Webern" need look no further.

ROBERT COWAN

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