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Anton Webern's music still provokes extreme reactions. In fact the idea of Webern's music is enough to cause a shudder in some people; hearing the name is enough and perish the thought of actually listening to the music.
Yet what beauties they miss, and what change. From his early Slow Movement for String Quartet through to the late Op. 28 Quartet over 30 years later you travel from yearning romanticism through Expressionist angst to the atonal 12-note world of Webern's teacher Schonberg, yet with a degree of refinement and crystalline beauty rarely achieved by his master.
These new performances from the Artis Quartet of Vienna let you compress this journey into a mere 65 minutes, from first to last. They bring all the warmth those early tonal works cry out for, and somehow manage to carry it through to even the later works, pieces that sometimes receive the coldest of performances from players in awe of Webern's reputation. Maybe it takes a Viennese ensemble to show us that the spirit of Vienna lives in all of this music, not just the obviously romantic early work.
It's a pleasure to be reminded that Webern always was a lyrical composer; it's just that he doesn't always get lyrical performances. These from the Artis Quartet ought to win over a few die-hards, assuming of course you can get them to take their fingers out of their ears after hearing the name Webern...
Andrew McGregor - presenter of CD Review on Radio 3