A few aging listeners will recall a time when the only way to hear most of the music of Anton Webern was through the recordings of Robert Craft. Few of those listeners will recall those performances with pleasure. Webern's music was new then, so most of it had never been recorded before, so no one really knew how it went. That Craft had his musicians do as well as they did is to be commended. That they didn't do it better is to be regretted. But that they set back the cause of Webern's music two decades is incontrovertible because in Craft's recordings, Webern's music sounds more like random bleeps, blips, and bloops than music.
That was then and this is now. Craft has had 50 years to live with Webern's music and two generations of musicians have grown up in the meantime. The first disc in Craft's second Webern series benefits immeasurably from both. Although Craft's Webern still sounds a bit angular, that may be an interpretative inclination rather than a technical flaw. More importantly, these performances are tremendously musical. For once, Webern's music sounds light, lyrical, witty, expressive, and tender. While some of the music on this disc is still a stiff dose of unreconstructed dodecaphonic serialism, most of it is passionately controlled, deeply emotional, and profoundly spiritual. Naxos' sound is clear and vivid.