Berg: Wozzeck

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Berg
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Wozzeck
PERFORMER: Bo Skovhus, Jan Blinkhof, Chris Merritt, Frode Olsen, Angela Denoke, Jürgen Sacher; Hamburg State Opera Chorus, Hamburg State PO/Ingo Metzmacher
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 5 56865 2
For a work that is commonly regarded as one of the pivotal operas of the 20th century there are surprisingly few outstanding Wozzecks on disc. Claudio Abbado’s, recorded on-stage at the Vienna State Opera in 1987 with Franz Grundheber in the title role, is just about the best of them, narrowly outpointing Karl Böhm’s lovingly Viennese performance from the Sixties; while this new version from the Hamburg Opera doesn’t quite challenge the supremacy of those classic accounts, there is a tangible aura of theatricality about this live performance.

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The firm foundation is the excellence of the orchestral playing, precise, characterful and shaped by Ingo Metzmacher with unerring dramatic instincts. The interludes that are so crucial to the remorseless unfolding of the tragedy have a huge impact, with a humanity that overflows in the famous D minor invention before the final catastrophe, and they provide a perfect context for the sharp-etched characterisations of the protagonists.

In the title role Bo Skovhus isn’t the guttural, inarticulate figure of so many stage Wozzecks; his lightweight, lyrical baritone brings out the aspirational yearnings of the man, someone whose dreams are going to be dashed, certainly, but who has been cruelly treated by fate rather than brought disaster upon himself. The Marie of Angela Denoke is intensely sympathetic too – the bible-reading scene is genuinely touching; like her lover she is prey rather than predator.

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Those cynical exploiters are all too real as well – Jan Blinkhof’s Drum Major has just the right mix of arrogance and attractiveness, Chris Merritt’s Captain is a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Frode Olsen’s Doctor oozes cruelty from every pore. It’s a fine ensemble achievement. Andrew Clements