WORKS: Seven Early Songs; Three Pieces from the Lyric Suite; Five Altenberg Songs; Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6
PERFORMER: Brigitte Balleys (soprano)German SO Berlin (RSO)/Vladimir Ashkenazy
CATALOGUE NO: 436 567-2 DDD
The two song collections on this disc are highly contrasted, given that as little as five years separate them. The early set (1907) is unmistakably late Romantic, while the aphoristic Songs on Postcard Texts by Peter Altenberg (1912) have well and truly moved into the angst-ridden world of Expressionism. This dichotomy of styles is felt in the performance by the soprano Brigitte Balleys, who proves much more at home with the varied means of expression required by the later work than with the earlier, where her phrasing and declamation sound breathy and her tone lacks richness (one often longs for a more Wagnerian or Straussian singer here).
Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces find him as the heir to Mahler: their massive orchestras, their distortions of waltz and march, and their heated Expressionism have often suggested to listeners that this could be how Mahler himself would have progressed had he lived another 20 years or so. Yet the originality of these pieces, along with his small but exquisitely crafted output, is entirely Berg’s own and Ashkenazy and his orchestra find plenty of drama and timbral range in their pages, though there is a tendency to dwell on their residual Romanticism at the expense of their modernity. Matthew Rye