Berg: Seven Early Songs; Altenberg Songs; Jugendlieder (1904-8, excerpts)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Berg
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Seven Early Songs; Altenberg Songs; Jugendlieder (1904-8, excerpts)
PERFORMER: Jessye Norman (soprano), Ann Schein (piano)LSO/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: SK 66826 DDD
This disc comprises newly released recordings dating back as far as 1984, giving the impression of sessions taped at various times without much idea how they would ultimately fit together. Given better planning, maybe more of Berg’s orchestral settings (such as the Lulu Suite, which Norman has not recorded – her Der Wein is available on a mid-price Sony disc) could have been included (a project aborted by Boulez’s decampment to DG, perhaps?) or, given the 30 minutes of spare capacity on the disc, a more comprehensive survey of the piano-accompanied songs could have been attempted.

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Anyway, gripes over, this is a superb disc. Jessye Norman’s voluptuous voice is ideal for this sort of music, as much for the late Romanticism of the Seven Early Songs (recorded in 1988) as for the often tortured Expressionism of the Altenberg-Lieder (recorded in 1984). She tames it, too, for the more intimate Wolf- and Brahms-like piano-accompanied songs (plus one serial work from 1925), and Ann Schein proves a poetic, supportive partner. In the orchestral cycles, Boulez and the LSO match Norman in the colour and scale of their performances and the sound is warm and finely detailed in all three sessions.