RICERCAR - an elaborate polyphonic composition making extensive use of contrapuntal imitation and usually very slow in tempo - is an fitting title for this performance of the works of JS Bach and those of Anton Webern, for many as antithetical a pairing of composers as could be imagined. But the influence of Bach on Webern is significant: centuries apart they both were fascinated with counterpoint and in many ways each developed a musical language that would outlast them for may years.
ECM has programed a fascinating and thought provoking recital in comparing and contrasting the works of Bach and Webern on this wholly satisfying recording. Christoph Poppen is the fine conductor of the Munich Chamber Orchestra and his performances of these disparate and yet complementary works is solidly professional. He opens and closes the recital with Webern's transcription of Bach's The Musical Offering Ricercar and in between he offers the shimmering orchestration of Webern's 1905 String Quartet - one of the finest works on this near perfect program. For Bach devotees Poppen conducts a performance of Bach's 'Christ lag in Todes Banden' electing to use the Hilliard Ensemble (four voices only) as the 'chorus' and soloists, wisely adding the fine soprano Monika Mauch to enhance the color. It is intimate and deeply moving.
Webern's five movements for string quartet (Opus 5) are presented in his orchestral transcription, again with the same degree of sensitivity and depth of understanding as in the other Webern piece. There is much more of Webern's variety of tempi and dynamics and outbursts of color in this work. And the recital closes where it begins - with The Musical Offering of Bach - the ricercar as transformed by Webern in homage to the Master. This is subtle and completely satisfying programming on the part of Christoph Poppen, an intellectually satisfying selection as well as a performance of great beauty. Grady Harp, June 10