Friday 31 March 1995
Almost every stage of Webern's stylistic progress is represented here. There's the nostalgic romanticism of the Slow Movement for String Quartet, the striving after new sensations in the one movement String Quartet of 1905, the sense of doors opening on fantastic new worlds in the Five Movements and the Six Bagatelles, and finally the thorny asceticism of the Op 28 Quartet and the String Trio.
Instead of presenting the works chronologically, the Emersons move backwards and forwards in time, sometimes making abrupt contrasts, more often allowing us to hear fascinating similarities: the early twilit romanticism is haunted by pre-echoes of the expressionist night; conversely even the tiny Bagatelles have their emotionally revealing moments, a kind of minutely concentrated rhetoric. The playing revels in the range of moods and colours - so much so that you might even find the disc too rich to be sampled in one go. That's hardly a problem, though. At a time when Webern is deeply out of fashion, it's encouraging to find an ensemble of this calibre demonstrating faith in him. If you feel drawn to reappraise Webern, there's no better place to start. SJ
.Shostakovich: Symphony No10. Mussorgsky, orch Shostakovich: Songs and Dances of Death. Philadelphia Orchestra/ Mariss Jansons (EMI 5 55232 2)
The opening paragraph, rising and falling with the movement of deep-set string basses, is beautifully sculpted. But I can't say that I was truly drawn into the subtext until the bassoon and his sinister cousin, the contra- bassoon, began their long, slow descent into the substratum of the development. Jansons mounts a tremendous climax there, stretching the intensity of the pay-off with an unmarked tenuto over the final protestations of horns and low-pitched trumpets. But again, as two piccolos survey the aftermath, why does their desolation not get to me? Jansons is a major talent: the musical values are high, the keenness of detail exceptional. But it's that final step - the moment at which the spirit transcends the letter of the score - that sometimes eludes him. He bullies the Philadelphia into a white-knuckle ride through that rampaging Scherzo: mad-dog Stalin in season. Could he have driven the post-Stalin celebrations at the close a little harder and faster? I think so. But it's impressive. As is Robert Lloyd in the Songs and Dances of Death, working the bitter irony of the texts like a deluded Boris Godunov. ES
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