Robert Craft

Webern: Vocal and Orchestral Works

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AllMusic Review by

Pairing the names of Anton Webern and Robert Craft may not necessarily bring happy memories to those who listened to the historic recordings Columbia issued in 1957 in its famous four-LP box set of Webern's Complete Works. But that may change if Naxos' all-digital series has anything to do with it. Craft has certainly been a valiant champion of Webern's music, promoting it passionately at times when only the cognoscenti of the avant-garde cared anything for it. However, the quality of his early performances was uneven, and despite the memorable presence on his recordings of the formidable Marni Nixon, who sang the taxing vocal music with aplomb, those recordings made Webern seem unnaturally dry and pedantic, and an impression was left of disjointed and not well-rehearsed music. With this installment of Craft's all-digital recordings from 2007 and 2008, a new interpretation of Webern emerges, one that is decidedly less cerebral and considerably more atmospheric, lyrical, and expressive. A lot has changed in 50 years, and the technical challenges of playing and recording Webern's music correctly and beautifully have decreased over time, as musicians have found later avant-garde composers' works to be far more daunting and capacity-enlarging. With the greater familiarity and ease of performance, musicians have granted themselves more freedom to play Webern with something amounting to soulfulness. Craft makes the most of his resources here, conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Twentieth Century Classics Ensemble with assured pacing and emotional flexibility, so the instrumental works sound quite musical and almost effortless. The angular vocal and choral pieces are still somewhat more challenging, but hearing the clear and accurate performances of sopranos Tony Arnold and Claire Booth, bass David Wilson-Johnson, and the Simon Joly Chorale is really a pleasure. Naxos' recording is slightly variable in clarity and dynamics, which may be noticeable when the short tracks are heard in close succession, yet the sound quality is great overall, with a surprisingly heightened sense of spatial dimensions that puts the listener right in the players' midst.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1
7:49
Songs (2) for chorus, clarinet, bass clarinet, celesta, guitar & violin, Op. 19
2
1:20
3
1:12
Movements (5), version for string orchestra, Op. 5
4
2:56
5
2:01
6
0:49
7
1:12
8
3:20
Songs (2) for soprano & ensemble, Op. 8
9
1:04
10
1:04
Pieces (5) for orchestra, Op. 10
11
0:47
12
0:39
13
1:56
14
0:28
15
1:22
Songs (4) for soprano & orchestra (or piano), Op. 13
16
2:28
17
1:33
18
1:13
19
2:11
Songs (6) for soprano & ensemble, Op. 14
20
1:41
21
1:34
22
1:23
23
1:36
24
0:55
25
1:33
Sacred Songs (5) for soprano & ensemble, Op. 15
26
1:02
27
1:00
28
1:01
29
1:05
30
1:51
31
6:13
32
7:29
Cantata No. 2 for soprano, bass, chorus & orchestra, Op. 31
33
2:07
34
3:41
35
2:31
36
1:11
37
4:04
38
1:46
blue highlight denotes track pick