Berg: Sieben frühe Lieder

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Berg,Ka Hartmann
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Berg: Sieben frühe Lieder; Jugendlieder; Zwei Lieder nach Theodor Storm; Ka Hartmann: Lamento
PERFORMER: Juliane Banse (soprano), Aleksandar Madzar (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ECM 476 3848

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This is a rather strange disc, though not perhaps by the standards of this label. Called ‘Deep in the Night’, it gives us 18 song settings by Berg, and a fascinating work by Karl Amadeus Hartmann, who perpetually hovers on the brink of revival. 

First we get Berg’s Seven Early Songs, dating from his early twenties. These are fairly familiar, a seemingly arbitrary selection from the very large number of tiny songs he wrote in that period. Though they set different poems, the mood remains much the same: late-Romantic dwellings on night, mist, death, love, sounding deliberately fragmentary. On this disc we get another nine of them, the last being a setting of one of Goethe’s most famous lyrics, ‘Kennst du das Land?’ (Do you know the land?) which has been set by almost every composer.

This is the least interesting or appropriate setting I have heard. Then there are two versions of the same poem, one from 1907, in a generalised idiom, and the other from 1925, and unmistakably Berg. Juliane Banse brings to all of them her intense voice, focused and lovely – except when singing loud and high – and makes them as memorable as anyone I’ve heard. 

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It comes as a shock, after 25 minutes of whispy inconsequence, when the piano launches into Hartmann’s trilogy of poems by Gryphius, from the Thirty Years War. The atmosphere remains intense, more so, but there is a possibility of action, violence, regret and anger, and whatever the merits of this neglected music turn out in the long run to be, they will certainly not be given a more riveting and committed interpretation than they are by these two artists. Michael Tanner