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Music Review

Illuminating Webern Trip With Parisii

November 06, 1996|TIMOTHY MANGAN

The only way to fully appreciate Anton Webern's Six Bagatelles for string quartet is in person, live in concert. Only then can you feel their vastness, sense their magnificent spareness, hear their miniature ampleness that comes so close to saying nothing that it says it all.

And only then can you appreciate the concentration of a roomful of hundreds of people sitting in rapt silence--there was actually no coughing!--listening to the faintest little twitters of sound emanating from four musicians hunkered over their instruments. It helped Monday night, in Bing Theater at the Los Angeles County Art Museum, that those musicians were the Parisii Quartet, playing as if they were on a mission.

They were, in fact. The Parisian ensemble--Thierry Brodard, Jean-Michel Berrette, Dominique Lobet and Jean-Philippe Martignoni--was performing Webern's complete works for string ensemble, a rare undertaking. The technical skill and mental focus required for this is huge, and was met spectacularly.

No music is more itself, and just itself than Webern's. One practically has to develop a strategy to listen to it, such is its uniqueness. The temptation is to hear its gestures impressionistically--as ether, as insects, as jewels, as painterly squiggles, as anger--but this is wrong. The Parisii performances--compact, honed, never prettified or sensationalized--captured the pure essence of the music masterfully.

Hearing these works in one evening made Webern's compositional journey vivid. From the early, bookish Slow Movement to the startling developments in form and expression in the Rondo a year later; from the Expressionistic Five Pieces (1909) and complete concision and breathless impulses of the Bagatelles (1913) to the later Trio and, finally, Quartet of 1938--all were heard as one developing arc. The hard-won maturity of the master at the end was all the more clear because of it, the 1938 Quartet's expansiveness achieved through a perfect marriage of the linear with the vertical. Bach would have been proud.

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