Berg: Lulu

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Berg
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Lulu
PERFORMER: Constance Hauman, Julia Juon, Theo Adam, Peter Straka, Monte Jaffe, Michael Myers; Danish National RSO/Ulf Schirmer
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9540(3)
Clothed in an extraordinary emotional dress of high-intensity serialism, charged flashback, classical set-piece, recitative, Sprechstimme, rhythmic motif, old-world dance and off-stage jazz band, Lulu (1929-35) remains an astonishing, many-layered portrait of ascendancy and decline – with its central character, the dispassionate, erotically demonic mistress, wife and prostitute of Wedekind’s imagination, the destroyer of men who is herself destroyed, transformed into a flesh-and-blood coloratura heroine capable of mortal suffering.

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The very ending – left unfinished in short score (wasn’t Berg ‘Lulu’s last victim’, according to his wife?) – was completed by Friedrich Cerha in 1979 and premiered by Boulez in Paris. Following this edition, Schirmer’s ‘live’ reading has plenty of positive tension, benefiting from a finely rounded Lulu in Constance Hauman, together with Julia Juon (the predatory Countess Geschwitz), Theo Adam (Schigolch), Peter Straka (Alwa) and Monte Jaffe (Dr Schön).

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Yet there’s a nervousness, a tendency to rush phrases and lose clarity and rhythmic exactitude, that is ultimately unsettling. Boulez (DG) offers greater clinical precision, Tate (EMI, also ‘live’) more expressive timing, Böhm (DG, the incomplete original) added lyrical warmth. But also this recording’s muddy sound balance, with recessed voices, some stage noise and the faint hum of theatre machinery and lighting, leaves the orchestra more swimming than settled in image. Ates Orga