Berg • Schoenberg

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Berg,Schoenberg
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Berg • Schoenberg
WORKS: Berg: Lyric Suite (arr. Berg/Verbey); Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht
PERFORMER: Ensemble Resonanz/Jean-Guihen Queyras
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902150

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In its packaging Harmonia Mundi plays up these two works as expressions of ‘adulterous love’: the Richard Dehmel poem that inspired Verklärte Nacht has a man accepting that his lover is pregnant by another, while Berg enshrined his adulterous passion for Hanna Fuchs in the Lyric Suite. As an approach it feels rather contrived, though. Whether either work – and they are two of the most naked outpourings of passion in the repertoire – gains much from too close a concentration on this particular aspect is debatable.

Berg scored just three movements of the Lyric Suite for string orchestra; the Dutch composer Theo Verbey was bold enough to arrange the other three in 2006, and it’s this compound version that Queyras presents with the 22-strong Ensemble Resonanz. Verbey’s realisations are effective enough, but don’t convince me Berg was wrong to stick to just three movements: the others don’t seem to gain anything from the thicker textures. Both here and in the Schoenberg the performances are forceful, heavy, occasionally (as in the very slow opening of Verklärte Nacht) a little leaden. Queyras goes for drama at the expense of the lyric poetry and beauty of texture found in both scores.

An interesting coupling, then, and not without fine playing, but not really competitive in the crowded field of the Schoenberg, while the Berg-Verbey Lyric Suite, though unique, doesn’t really seem more than a curiosity.

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Calum MacDonald