Berg: Lulu

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Berg
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Berg
WORKS: Lulu
PERFORMER: Lisa Saffer, Susan Parry, Anna Burford, Graeme Danby, Stuart Kale, Robert Hayward, John Graham Hall, Gwynne Howell; ENO Orchestra/Paul Daniel
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 3130 (3)
Earth-spirit Lulu’s rise and fall made a fantastical spectacle in Richard Jones’s English National Opera production, which should have been a prime candidate for DVD. Chandos’s Opera in English series gives us quite a different experience, but still one which validates the fluent delivery made possible by Jones’s idiosyncratic springboard. Throughout, the conversation-pieces, ironic exchanges and occasional splashes of coarse humour rendered by Richard Stokes’s painstaking translation are delivered with verve, meshing confidently with the finely-balanced orchestral web of sound.

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Lisa Saffer’s Lulu, so free and easy in Berg’s stratospheric writing, is a special case, lacking the desperate edge of Teresa Stratas’s more palpitating heroine for Boulez (DG) and more of a knowing manipulator than the amoral wild-child so truthfully played by Christine Schäfer in the spare but compelling Glyndebourne DVD (Warner). The vocal shortcomings of Lulu’s men are more apparent without their vivid stage personas: composer Alwa may be spineless, but his lyric rhapsodies need more backbone than character tenor John Graham Hall can give them, while Robert Hayward fails to pull out the stops for Dr Schön’s desperation that he finally uncovers in his alter ego Jack the Ripper. Daniel achieves admirable results, but the ENO strings lack the tonal beauty for the true-love adagios that underpin Lulu’s relationship with Dr Schön; Boulez’s blend of pinpoint precision with surprising passion remains unrivalled. A worthwhile enterprise, all the same. David Nice