Sunday, November 11, 2007

Exploring Webern in-depth

Thanks to Alex Ross' new book (which is wonderful, by the way), I am exploring Anton Webern more deeply than I have in the past. Pierre Boulez' wonderful DGG box, the Complete Webern, makes for an economical and great way to get into Webern.

Having entered modern avant-garde music through Boulez' own compositions (especially Le marteau sans maître and Pli selon pli), Webern's grammar is not entirely surprising. There is, though, a wonderful economy of form with Webern's music that is not necessarily there with Boulez (and certainly not there with someone like Luciano Berio). Webern seemed capable of compressing the works down to their essence, which talent must have come as quite a breath of fresh air after Mahler's expansive compositions and some of Schoenberg's more massive works (Gurrelieder, anyone?)

While it is too early to form a comprehensive judgment, I will say this: Webern is an underrated Lieder composer.


At 9:20 PM, Blogger Drew80 said...

Webern was a wonderful songwriter (but so, too, was Schoenberg).

I like those Boulez Webern discs very much. They are among my favorite Webern recordings. However, I don't think that the vocalists in that set were shown to advantage in the songs.

Have you had a chance to compare the Boulez Webern discs to the Webern recordings made by Abbado and Karajan? If so, I would be curious to hear any thoughts you may have.

For what it's worth, a noted conductor told my father that there were numerous errors in that Boulez DGG set--in fact, a shocking number of errors, especially given Boulez's supposed expertise in that repertory.

Musicians in a position to know claim that Boulez's ears have deteriorated significantly over the last thirty years. Whether this is true or not, there were also numerous errors in Boulez's earlier Webern set on Sony.

Perhaps the recording sessions--both the Sony sessions and the DGG sessions--did not allow sufficient time to correct errors.

I enjoy your blog.


At 3:40 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Smith said...

I would have to know precisely where the errors were, as there was as much non-Boulez in that Webern set as there was Boulez. It wouldn't surprise me to hear of errors, though. Boulez' expertise in Webern, to my mind, could tend him toward sloppiness. He also has a tendency to be less than wonderful in material that doesn't interest him as much, and Webern had some misses in his oeuvre.

As to comparisons between Boulez and Abbado or Von Karajan, I would have to plead ignorance for Abbado. Von Karajan's 2dVS recordings are remarkably good. They aren't, as I recall, typical Von Karajan (i.e., slick and facile) - they have some feeling and some bite. I would say that, without being entirely analogous, Boulez and Von Karajan have some common ground in Webern.

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