PERFORMER: Franz Grundheber, Waltraud Meier, Mark Baker, Endrik Wottrich, Graham Clark, Günter von Kannen; Berlin State Opera Chorus &Children’s Chorus, Berlin Staatskapelle/Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: 0630-14108-2
For all its stature as one of the truly great 20th-century operas, Berg’s Wozzeck is not so generously served by recordings that we can afford not to welcome a new one. Yet Barenboim’s Berlin recording shares certain aspects with the other most recent account, Abbado’s for DG (currently available only through Polygram’s Import Service): it is taken from live stage performances and features the same Wozzeck in Franz Grundheber.
Unlike a number of recent operatic recordings that have been taken from concert performances, this is the real thing, with all the stage noise and intermittent loss of acoustic focus that that entails (specifically, it comes from Patrice Chéreau’s 1994 Berlin State Opera production). On the plus side, of course, comes a truer sense of the drama being acted out by the singers, something that many studio recordings of opera so often patently lack.
Grundheber, as his ubiquity would suggest, is the leading exponent of Wozzeck in the present decade, coupling musical ease and accuracy with a warm, but anguished sympathy with his character. Meier has her occasional lapse into Wagnerian swoops as Marie, yet gives a forthright, unflagging portrayal. This veritable ‘rep’ company of many of Barenboim’s favoured colleagues is strongly cast throughout, from Graham Clark’s breathless Captain to a ringing Drum Major from Mark Baker and a light-voiced Andres from Endrik Wottrich.
The orchestra plays as magnificently as its Viennese counterpart does for Abbado, though the latter conductor brings a more analytically astute ear to the score and the DG production better solves the problems of balancing a recording from a staged performance. Nevertheless, Barenboim’s gifts bring rewards of their own in this new account and, if the DG proves hard to track down, is a good second choice.