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Berg: Violin Concerto, Lyric Suite, Lulu Suite, Piano Sonata, String Quartet

Release Date: 02/15/2011 
Label:  Warner Classics   Catalog #: 7211  
Composer:  Alban Berg
Performer:  Frank Peter ZimmermannPeter DonahoeSine Bundgaard
Conductor:  Gianluigi GelmettiIngo MetzmacherSimon RattleMatthias Pintscher
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Radio Symphony OrchestraBamberg Symphony OrchestraAlban Berg String Quartet,   ... 
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

A fine collection of Berg that should have wide appeal.

These well-filled discs represent a good cross-section of Alban Berg’s works from the early Sieben frühe Lieder and Piano Sonata to two of his greatest works written near the end of his rather short life, the Lulu-Suite and the Violin Concerto. The set is also a real bargain in that all of the performances and recordings are first rate, and the CDs are at budget price.

The first disc starts with what is Berg’s most often performed and best-loved work, the Violin Concerto. Although based on Schoenberg’s tone row series of twelve notes, it contains many tonal elements, not least of which is the use of Bach’s chorale “Es ist genug” in the
Read more second movement. Franz Peter Zimmermann’s performance is overall the speediest of the five in my collection, though it nowhere sounds rushed. Where Daniel Hope takes over twelve minutes for the first movement and seventeen for the second, Zimmermann’s comes in at eleven and fourteen and a half, respectively. Zimmermann gives an eloquent account of the work and the violin is balanced very well with the orchestra, though I still prefer Hope by a small margin. The orchestra’s role is nearly as important as that of the soloist, and Gelmetti and the Stuttgart orchestra provide superb support. The recording is so clear that you can easily hear all of the orchestral solos and yet the violin is forward enough to avoid being covered by the at times dense orchestration.

Next on the disc is the suite Berg made from his unfinished opera Lulu. Rattle and the CBSO capture the spirit of the music very well. They play with warmth, but do not romanticize the music. They also bring out the humor with the hurdy-gurdy imitation in the Variations movement. Arleen Augér’s solos blend in with the orchestra rather than standing out as one might expect. Yet, the purity of her tone is a definite asset. The first disc concludes with what in my opinion is one of the composer’s toughest nuts to crack, the Three Orchestral Pieces. Metzmacher and the Bambergers do as fine a job with them as I have heard. They are certainly better played and recorded than the version by Colin Davis and the Bavarian Radio Symphony on a Philips CD that accompanies Gidon Kremer’s highly regarded performance of the Violin Concerto.

The second disc consists of solo and chamber works. Peter Donohoe gives a fine account of the highly chromatic Piano Sonata. His is a less dramatic performance than Mitsuko Uchida’s on the Philips recording that includes her terrific performance of the Schoenberg Piano Concerto. Yet Donohoe is powerful enough when the music calls for power. The eponymous Alban Berg Quartett provides definitive accounts of the two string pieces. I reviewed their version of the Quartet earlier when it appeared in a compilation of twentieth-century string quartets also on EMI. The Lyric Suite also leaves nothing to be desired. I prefer this performance to that of the Juilliard Quartet on a Sony disc containing unidiomatic accounts of the Janá?ek quartets. The Alban Berg Quartett is slightly faster and lighter with the work and has a more natural flow. The disc ends with the Seven Early Songs, which are performed in the composer’s later revision accompanied by a chamber orchestra. I had not heard Sine Bundgaard before. She has a lovely voice and captures the romance and nature imagery of the songs very well, and Pintscher and the Danish Radio Sinfonietta provide excellent accompaniment.

Since there is not a single dud among the performances, I can heartily recommend these discs for someone coming to Berg for the first time and also to the seasoned collector. The reduced price is a further enhancement, but it’s a pity that no texts for the songs or for the vocal parts of the Lulu-Suite were included. The notes themselves, while rather skimpy, are well written and provide some background to the works.

-- Leslie Wright, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

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 
Pieces (3) for Orchestra, Op. 6 by Alban Berg
Conductor:  Ingo Metzmacher
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bamberg Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915/1929; Austria 
Quartet for Strings, Op. 3 by Alban Berg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Alban Berg String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1910; Austria 
Lyric Suite for String Quartet by Alban Berg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Alban Berg String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1926; Austria 
Lulu-Suite by Alban Berg
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; Austria 
Sonata for Piano, Op. 1 by Alban Berg
Performer:  Peter Donahoe (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: ?1907-08; Austria 
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 

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