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[Off The Record]
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Artis Quartett Wien

Like the string quartets of Beethoven and Bartók, the music that Anton Webern (1883-1945) wrote for the genre spanned almost his entire career. Although small, this body of work charts not only his own artistic path but the direction of European music through the first half of the 20th century. The lush chromaticism of his early, unpublished works gives way to the fierce mood swings of the Opus 5 Five Pieces and the tremendous concision of the Opus 9 Bagatelles. The music that he wrote in his final creative phase, uncompromisingly austere and aphoristic, seems to disappear before it’s even really there. Entire moods and atmospheres are expressed within a single whispered note. No wonder that his teacher, Arnold Schoenberg, asked in a preface to one of Webern’s works, " Does the musician know how to play these pieces? Does the listener know how to receive them? "

On the evidence of this new release the answer to the first question is yes. The Artis Quartett gives the kind of passionate, highly intelligent performances with which Pierre Boulez has lately been championing Webern’s music. This youngish Viennese ensemble captures all the contradictory aspects of Webern’s musical character. The readings of the Pieces and the Bagatelles are wonderfully transparent, allowing you to hear Webern’s full range of coloristic effects, but they capture just as well the sparse, fragile beauty of the late works for trio and quartet. And the Artis’s playing of the youthful works is full of that fin-de-siècle melancholy so lacking in the Emerson String Quartet’s recent Webern collection. With excellent sound and well-written program notes, this recording might just help us to answer yes to Schoenberg’s second question as well.


Issue Date: July 12 - 19, 2001

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