All products and recordings are chosen independently by our editorial team. This review contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made. Please read our affiliates FAQ page to find out more.

Berg: Three Pieces for Orchestra; Passacaglia etc

James Ehnes (violin); BBC Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Davis (Chandos)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6; Passacaglia (orch. A Davis); Violin Concerto*; Piano Sonata, Op. 1 (orch. A Davis)
*James Ehnes (violin); BBC Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Davis
Chandos CHSA 5270 (CD/SACD)   66:02 mins


James Ehnes gives a hauntingly elegiac account of Berg’s Violin Concerto. This, the composer’s last work, was written in memory of the young daughter of Alma Mahler and the architect Walter Gropius, and Ehnes makes it sound like a requiem not only for Manon Gropius, but also for Berg himself. His mellow tone is ideally captured on the recording, as is his readiness to play the role of accompanist when the main melodic line lies in the orchestra.

The Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6 were written at a time when Berg was already turning over in his mind his opera Wozzeck, and they foreshadow a few passages from the stage work – notably the moment of Wozzeck’s drowning, which is directly mirrored near the end of the concluding ‘March’. Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra offer a powerful performance, with Davis managing the progressively increasing tempo of the ‘March’ with meticulous care.

Of greater rarity value are the two supplementary items here. Davis’s own orchestration of Berg’s single-movement Op. 1 Piano Sonata throws the music’s lush Romanticism into relief, and even provides a varied instrumentation of the first-half repeat. The Passacaglia, written some years after the Sonata (its exact date isn’t known), may again make us think of Berg’s first opera, since he used the same musical form for the Act I scene between Wozzeck and the Doctor. The orchestral piece remains a fragment, but it is one that leaves a lasting impression.


Misha Donat