Berg: Wozzeck (in English)

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Wozzeck (in English)
PERFORMER: Andrew Shore, Josephine Barstow, Jean Rigby, Alan Woodrow, Peter Bronder, Stuart Kale, Clive Bayley, Leslie John Flanagan, Iain Paterson, John Graham-Hall; Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, Susan Singh Choristers, Philharmonia Orchestra/Paul Daniel
There’s little need to argue the case for performing Berg’s Wozzeck in English. The advantages are obvious, particularly for those who are not comfortable with the original German, or who remain daunted by Berg’s Expressionist musical idiom. For a start many listeners can begin to unravel the nuances of Büchner’s play with much greater understanding, especially since Richard Stokes’s vivid translation, familiar to audiences of Opera North and English National Opera, is free from artifice and brings to life the coarseness and brutality of the central protagonists. Such directness can only help to enhance one’s appreciation of Berg’s spectacular command of orchestral resource, structure and dramatic characterisation, while serving to emphasise even more strongly than previously the degree to which Britten’s Peter Grimes is heavily indebted to Berg’s masterpiece.


Although the present recording was made in studio conditions, it features a conductor and cast of singers who have had vast experience of performing the work in the opera house. This ensures a high level of dramatic urgency throughout. Moreover, the recording manages to create the impression of theatre conditions with the added benefit of presenting a more natural balance between singers and orchestra than in the rival live recordings from Barenboim (Teldec) and Abbado (DG). As Wozzeck, Andrew Shore delivers a multi-faceted interpretation, often unhinged but also with moments of lucidity and compassion. The cameo characters of the Captain (Stuart Kale), Doctor (Clive Bayley) and the Drum Major (Alan Woodrow) are also strongly delineated, while Josephine Barstow’s Marie is powerful, though her wide vibrato can pall after a while. Under the compelling direction of Paul Daniel the Philharmonia appears to relish the many opportunities afforded by Berg’s virtuosic scoring, yet they can’t quite match the searing intensity of Abbado’s Vienna Philharmonic in the great D minor interlude just before the final scene.