Berg: Three Fragments from Wozzeck; Three Orchestral Pieces, Op. 6; Lulu Suite

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COMPOSERS: Berg
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Three Fragments from Wozzeck; Three Orchestral Pieces, Op. 6; Lulu Suite
PERFORMER: Renée Fleming (soprano); The Met Orchestra/James Levine
CATALOGUE NO: SK 53959 DDD
The Three Orchestral Pieces form Berg’s overt homage to Mahler, whose spirit hovers over the apocalyptic concluding march in particular. Levine has previously recorded them with the Berlin Philharmonic, but that account is easily outclassed here, thanks to some fine playing by the Met Orchestra.

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Levine is in his element in the sensuous side of Berg, and there is also much to admire in the Lulu Suite. But Berg’s music is full of sudden dramatic outbursts, and such moments need to make more impact. (The tumultuous trumpet entry near the start of the film-music interlude is a case in point.) In the Act II Hymn, the piano manages – against Bergspecific instructions – to drown not only the pizzicato strings, but also the main saxophone melody; and the piano lands Levine in trouble again in the concluding Adagio, with an entry a whole bar early. In the Wozzeck fragments, Levine is self-indulgently slow, and although Renée Fleming copes valiantly with his languid tempo for Marie’s lullaby, the result is hardly what Berg had in mind.

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All this is a pity, because so much of this music comes across with full Romantic fervour. For the Op. 6 Pieces and the Lulu Suite, Abbado’s DG recording with Margaret Price and the LSO is still hard to beat. Misha Donat