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Gemini - Alban Berg - A Portrait / Rattle, Metzmacher, Et Al

Release Date: 04/24/2007 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 81771   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Alban Berg
Performer:  Günter PichlerGerhard SchulzValentin ErbenThomas Kakuska,   ... 
Conductor:  Simon RattleGianluigi GelmettiIngo MetzmacherMatthias Pintscher
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Alban Berg String QuartetCity of Birmingham Symphony OrchestraStuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra,   ... 
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 27 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The Three Orchestral Pieces is a tremendously complex score. It poses high problems of balance for the conductor, despite Berg’s notational help in the form of Haupt- and Nebenstimmen (principal and subsidiary lines). In a sense this post-Mahlerian, with the second movement entitled “Reigen” (“Round Dance”) and a March as finale - the first movement is simply marked as “Prelude”. The piece opens with a gesture that what was to become a modernist cliché, the music beginning from nothing, percussion murmurings, before finally being “born”. It was hardly a cliché at the Read more time of composition and Metzmacher has his excellent orchestra play with a real sense of discovery. The second movement does indeed contain the essence of the dance, and the finale is here a true March, and a nightmarish one at that. The Bambergers play as if their lives depended on it. Occasionally some detail is lost, but that seems to be more the fault of the recording than the conductor.

Frank-Peter Zimmermann’s 1990 account of the Violin Concerto is technically competent and well recorded. The conductor, Gianluigi Gelmetti, does a fine job of isolating the main and subsidiary lines (Haupt and Nebenstimmen), and the recording quality itself supports him in this. The opening of the second movement, which should be cataclysmic in impact, is here just strong. Zimmermann deals well with the violin’s difficult lines immediately thereafter, under which the orchestra intones the sinister Hauptrhythmus. As one listens to the performance, one becomes aware of the musician’s goal. They have the end clearly in sight. En route, there is a real feeling of partnership between soloist and conductor - listen to how Zimmermann accompanies the orchestrally intoned Carinthian folksongs, and to how the flowerings of the chorale are managed.  

Zimmermann’s Violin Concerto was originally coupled with the Stravinsky Violin Concerto - Perlman famously coupled these two works as well - and the Ravel Tzigane. My top recommendation for this piece remains Anne-Sophie Mutter (CSO/Levine on DG) but the present Zimmermann view is as solid as one can imagine for this piece. Of vital interest, of course, is the Krasner version, conducted by Webern on Testament.

The Lulu-Suite (sometimes also known as the Lulu-Symphonie) is given a beautifully sensitive performance by Rattle and his Birmingham ensemble. Rattle is very alive to the half-lights of the quarter-hour first movement (Rondo: Andante und Hymne). Arleen Augér is in fabulous form for the “Lied der Lulu”, her excursions into Queen of the Night territory miraculously managed. The final movement’s climax is not really as powerful as I would like, although the warm recording renders Rattle’s attempt faithfully. Rattle’s original coupling was an inspired one, by the way: Berg Lulu-Suite, Schoenberg Op. 16 and Webern Op. 6 (CDC7 49857-2).

Sune Bundegaard is the perfect soloist for the Seven Early Songs. The composer Matthias Pintscher is also a fine conductor (see review of a Barbican concert with the BBCSO). “Die Nachtigall”, the third song, is particularly beautiful in this account. Bundegaard’s voice is wonderfully free, and Pintscher accompanies with a delicate tracery of thematic fragments. If the final “Sommertage” could glow more, this remains an immensely satisfying reading.

Another early work, the Piano Sonata, is given a rather disappointing reading by Peter Donohoe, whose directness robs the music of its exploratory nature and even the harmonies of their perfume. The actual piano sound is good, but under Donohoe’s fingers the climax threatens to disintegrate and is laborious. Infinitely more subtle is Sabine Meyer and Lars Vogt’s ephemeral performance of the Op. 5 pieces for clarinet and piano. These are live performances, something I guessed before checking out the booklet, such is the spontaneity of utterance. The explosive nature of the final piece, and its heightened contrasts, are particularly honoured. One of the highlights of the set, without a doubt.

Metzmacher’s Wozzeck interlude is good without being overwhelming. Note the booklet announces this as a live performance, then gives a string of dates for an excerpt that lasts less than four minutes!. Ending with the Alban Berg Quartet’s Lyric Suite is a shrewd move, though. The ABQ’s excellence has never been in doubt, and this is their home turf. Along with the clarinet pieces, this forms one of the set’s two high points. The ABQ’s confidence is beyond criticism, as is their unfailing understanding of Berg’s highly tensile but also highly refined emotional language. The refined, airy writing of the third movement (allegro misterioso) and the penultimate Presto delirando are particularly spectacular in its effect. The recording is exemplary from all angles. Tremendous - this account alone makes the purchase price well spent.

Booklet notes by Matthew Rye are brief (less than two CD-sized pages). As this is presumably pitched on some level as an introduction to Berg, given the price-point, the listener would surely appreciate greater detail, or a surer helping hand. In presenting a conspectus over two discs that effectively spans Berg’s creative output (‘effectively’ because, although the twofer includes the Sieben frühe Lieder, there were literally hundreds of earlier songs) there are inevitably omissions - most obvious here are the String Quartet, Op. 3 and the Altenberg-Lieder, Op. 4. Worth investigating, though.

-- Colin Clarke, MusicWeb International  Read less

Works on This Recording

Lyric Suite for String Quartet by Alban Berg
Performer:  Günter Pichler (Violin), Gerhard Schulz (Violin), Valentin Erben (Cello),
Thomas Kakuska (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Alban Berg String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1926; Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/1992 
Venue:  Evangelical Church, Seon, Switzerland 
Length: 27 Minutes 4 Secs. 
Lulu-Suite by Alban Berg
Performer:  Arleen Augér (Soprano)
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; Austria 
Venue:  Arts Centre, University of Warwick, Eng. 
Length: 33 Minutes 58 Secs. 
Language: German 
Notes: Arts Centre, University of Warwick, Eng. (12/1987 - 04/1988) 
Concerto for Violin by Alban Berg
Performer:  Frank Peter Zimmermann (Violin)
Conductor:  Gianluigi Gelmetti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; Austria 
Venue:  Broadcast Studio, Villa Berg, Stuttgart, 
Length: 25 Minutes 35 Secs. 
Notes: Broadcast Studio, Villa Berg, Stuttgart, Germany (09/03/1990 - 09/05/1990) 
Pieces (3) for Orchestra, Op. 6 by Alban Berg
Conductor:  Ingo Metzmacher
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bamberg Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915/1929; Austria 
Date of Recording: 1995 
Length: 19 Minutes 44 Secs. 
Early Songs (7) by Alban Berg
Performer:  Sine Bundgaard (Soprano)
Conductor:  Matthias Pintscher
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Danish Radio Sinfonietta
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1905-1908; Austria 
Venue:  Concert Hall, Danish Radio, Copenhagen, 
Length: 15 Minutes 8 Secs. 
Language: German 
Notes: Concert Hall, Danish Radio, Copenhagen, Denmark (09/20/2004 - 09/21/2004) 
Sonata for Piano, Op. 1 by Alban Berg
Performer:  Peter Donohoe (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: ?1907-08; Austria 
Date of Recording: 1989 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Length: 12 Minutes 29 Secs. 
Pieces (4) for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 5 by Alban Berg
Performer:  Lars Vogt (Piano), Sabine Meyer (Clarinet)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913; Austria 
Venue:  Live  Heimbach Chamber Music Festival 
Length: 7 Minutes 46 Secs. 
Notes: Heimbach Chamber Music Festival (09/09/2002 - 09/11/2002) 
Wozzeck, Op. 7: Act 3 - Interlude by Alban Berg
Conductor:  Ingo Metzmacher
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1917-1922; Austria 
Venue:  Live  State Opera, Hamburg, Germany 
Length: 3 Minutes 35 Secs. 
Notes: State Opera, Hamburg, Germany (09/27/1998 - 11/09/1998) 

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