If you are only ever going to listen to one disc of the music of Anton Webern, make it this one. It has more of his appealing orchestral music on it than any other disc. There is the Passacaglia, Op. 1 -- the finale of Brahms Fourth meets the finale of Mahler's Sixth. There is the Movements (5), Op. 5 -- angular, aggressive, and rapturous. There is the Pieces (6), Op. 6 -- tender, mysterious, and tragic. There is his pointillistic orchestration of Bach's Ricercar a 6 voci -- cool dots of color illuminating a mathematical proof. There is his affectionate orchestration of Schubert's German Dances -- lightly lyrical peasant dances done with loving care. There is even his Im Sommerwind -- a Romantic tone poem describing his trysts in the Austrian alps.
It has the finest performances on it. While there have been other fine recordings of all these works, no one would argue that Pierre Boulez is as fine a Webern conductor as there has ever been. He is accurate. He is committed. He is even, amazingly enough, passionate. And no one would argue that the Berlin Philharmonic is for Boulez as it has been for every previous conductor: the most virtuosic orchestra in the world. With Boulez's passionate clarity and the Berlin's lucid ensemble, they present the most immediately convincing case for Webern's music available on a single disc. Deutsche Grammophon's 1992 digital sound is crisp, clear, and vivid.