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Art Lange
Fanfare, August 2002

"I hate to put it in these terms, but at the risk of sounding trendy, Yuasa makes Webern's music 'user-friendly.' He does so not by exaggeration, simplification, or compromise, but through solid musicianship and an interpretive middle ground that keeps the music, even at its most radical, connected to a tradition...The advantage of Yuasa's disc, beyond its musical value, is that it is on Naxos - a high visibility, low-price label. I hope that the modest cost of this disc will encourage listeners unfamiliar with - or even inimical to - Webern's music to take a chance, give a listen, and discover the Webern they never knew."

Sensible Sound, May 2002

"Although an Irish orchestra let by a Japanese conductor might seem a strange combination for Viennese music, the end result is an impressive effort indeed, one that would be recommendable even at full price."

Martin Cotton
BBC Music Magazine, February 2002

"Long gone are the days when orchestras approached Webern with trepidation, and quite right too: the Passacaglia is almost 100 years old, and clearly shows its roots in Brahms, as Richard Whitehouse points out in his excellent notes. Yuasa shapes it sensitively, with a keen ear for balance, though the strings are sometimes overpowered at the climaxes. But in the Op. 5 Pieces the detail comes through, as well as a sense of continuity, even as Webern begins to strip down his musical language. There's real power in the funeral march from the Op. 6 Pieces, and, as the instrumental lines become more fragmented and the textures sparser, the individual players respond positively to their exposure. In the Op. 5 Pieces, Webern is at his briefest and most attenuated, and here I felt just a hint of nervousness in some of the difficult solo lines, but again, Yuasa's sense of pacing and balance are fully in tune with the personality of the music. With the Symphony and Variations, we've reached the maturity of a great composer, and, especially in the last, the orchestra plays with real confidence and flair. The name of Webern may scare you, but this is beautiful music. Go on: risk a fiver."

SOUND: * * * *

R.D., February 2002

"These admirably lucid and textually accurate performances were recorded two years ago in Ulster Hall at Belfast by Northern Ireland's premier orchestra, under the direction of its principal guest conductor Takuo Yuasa... this Naxos collection is a remarkable bargain for those with ears open to Webern's exploration of serial methods even while his "master," Schoenberg, was still formulating them... Naxos' recorded sound, produced by Tim Handley, is as pellucid as any on Webern discs past or current. Coupled with Yuasa's performances, the bargain should prove irresistible to adventurers."

Arnold Whittall
Gramophone, February 2002

"Yuasa and his Irish band meet Webern's challenges with occasionally inspired success... The best performances here are those of the Symphony and the Variations, in which Takuo Yuasa's scrupulous balancing of constantly fluctuating textures and tempos doesn't inhibit a natural sense of flow, nor a positive realization of the music­Ýs often surprisingly robust poetic essence... In sum, reliable and at times inspired readings of music whose historical significance shouldn't inhibit a keen appreciation of its character and depth."

Michael Jameson, January 2002

"If you're new to the music of Anton Webern, this superb budget CD is just the introduction you need. Until now, there's been nothing much to tempt those unwilling to pay top price for Herbert von Karajan's seminal recordings, or the equally engrossing and sometimes more revelatory DG remakes with the Berlin Philharmonic under Pierre Boulez. In contrast, Takuo Yuasa isn't a household name, and his Ulster Orchestra isn't in the big league, but don't let those factors deter serious evaluation of this release alongside the best available alternatives.

Yuasa's account of the Op. 1 Passacaglia affords striking evidence of the high quality of his ensemble. The playing is fine-grained and exact, and the cumulative effect of the performance is mightily impressive, with the vehement 16th variation especially telling. Webern's Symphony Op. 21 may only last seven minutes or so, but Yuasa manages to pack a terrific wealth of detail and vast emotional range into its diminutive time-frame. There are some superb moments in the performance, none more shattering than the fearsome outburst from the first horn during the second section.

Equally shocking is the whip-crack violence Yuasa unleashes in the third of the Five Pieces Op. 10, played very fast and with impressive precision by this accomplished team. The awesome funeral march (No. 4 of the Six Pieces Op. 6) hasn't quite the impact of Karajan's, and Boulez's is more monstrous yet; but Yuasa's skill at building angst-ridden crescendos comes into its own in one of the finest of many outstanding moments on this recording. The muted trumpet solo in No. 5 (with celesta and glockenspiel) has the required eerie quality, and the uneasy stasis of the close is persuasively attained...Yuasa's accounts have the spare, skeletal feel and expressive economy that makes them very rewarding indeed. An outstanding achievement."

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