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Berg Orchestral Works

Sonata for Piano, Op. 1/Verbey
3 Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6
Der Wein
Wein, Weib und Gesang, Op. 333 by Johann Strauss Jr
Passacaglia [fragment]
Concerto for Violin
Lulu - Symphonic Pieces

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Mario Venzago
Geraldine McGreevy
, soprano; Isabelle van Keulen, violin

Chandos 5074(2) [Recorded 2004-2007 - SACD; 2 Hours 37 Mins]

The "graduation" piano sonata heading this compilation of Berg's orchestral works caught my interest, and this proves a valuable compilation; saturation in high romanticism listned to the day after BBC's Total Immersion in Xenakis ! I've always been a bit uneasy about that sonata, which I've struggled to master on the keyboard - and heard it countless times from many pianists; to me it has always seemed to strain against the piano. Verbey's orchestration makes it (for me) an altogether better work; no hesitation in bringing it to attention. It could be a good concert starter for these times, which have abandoned the overtures of old (c.f. Colin Anderson's mini-campaign deploring "the regrettable modern trend of side-stepping a short orchestral opener").

Many composers work in 'short score', the laborious work of orchestration a subsequent task. The Passacaglia (1913) remained incomplete and is made available in an arrangement by Borries & the conductor of these recordings (2004-2007). It is good to have it available.

The Wozzeck-Fragments are well known; the Lulu - Symphonic Pieces less so. Both are well worth hearing sometimes apart from the whole operas.

Isabelle van Keulen is a sensitive interpreter of the violin concerto in an expressive, intimate and well balanced account. The presentation and supporting essays are good and it sounds well on normal stereo, presumaly even better for those with SACD equipment. Recommended.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See Classical Source's work-by-work appreciation of this valuable compilation [Editor]

Berg Kammerkonzert/Mozart: Gran Partita

Mitsuko Uchida (piano), Christian Tetzlaff (violin),
Ensemble Intercontemporain/Pierre Boulez

Decca 478 0316 [80 mins Distrib. Universal]

I used to find the Berg double concerto, with 13 winds as the orchestra, opaque and alienating. How performance standards (and listening ears) have changed, not least through the influence of Boulez, who gets the best from his players, allowing no compromise or approximations to the composers' intentions.

The Chamber Concerto has a dauntingly theoretical form, but listeners now can take that on trust and enjoy it as a sensuous musical experience.

It uses basic operations of the twelve-tone system - prime, inversion, retrograde-inversion, and retrograde - in a rigid construction, with the musical letters of the names Berg, Schoenberg, and Webern introduced in the "Theme".

Now, with Tetzlaff, Uchida & Boulez, it has become accessible and beautiful, a fascinating work, featuring the piano in the first movement, the violin in the second and both in the third and last.

The popular Gran Partita, the grandest and largest of Mozart's wind serenades, is the perfect companion piece. This account is as fine as any on record, and the sound quality is superb. A notable release, and one to enjoy alongside the generous Chandos compilation of Berg's orchestral music reviewed above.


Berg & Mahler

Berg Piano Sonata, Op.1; Kammerkonzert
Mahler Symphony No.9

Mitsuko Uchida (piano) Christian Tetzlaff (violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen

Royal Festival Hall March 22, 2009

A possibly daunting concert in the Philharmonia's Vienna 1900-1935 festival - there were many seats untaken. The lavishly illustrated programme book is worth acquiring for its compendious examination of the arts and politics of the times.

Uchida failed to persuade me that Berg's student work for Schoenberg didn't lack the orchestration eventually supplied by Verbey (see above). Nor that the RFH was ideal venue for it or for the Chamber Concerto, which is far more persuasive heard on CD from the same soloists.

Mahler Nine displayed some perhapas over consciously fine playing from the Philharmonia, including by their Guest Principal horn, Elspeth Dutch. The performance though didn't grab one emotionally as had Dudamel with the same orchestra in the Fifth recently (these seemed to be parts of a spread-out cycle; Salonen did the 3rd there not long ago and is scheduled to do the 6th & 7th this season).

Characterisation by the orchestral sections was strong in the middle movements and the strings produced a sumptuous richness in the slow finale, honing down to a remarkable pianissimo for the ending, which unfortunately blended with the ambient sounds of the hall itself, one high pitched, the other a quiet rumble, both of which obtruded also in the fading of Berg's final piano note, which was allowed to die away to silence. Or what serves for silence in this modern world - even in an anechoic chamber one cannot escape the sound of one's own breathing...


Andrew Clements in The Guardian found the Mahler Ninth, as I did "technically, an immaculate performance, beautifully played by all departments of the Philharmonia. But, despite the tonal splendour, it was one that remained unmoving even in the final pages. Salonen is never a conductor to wear his heart on his sleeve, but while this was much more than an antiseptically accurate rendering of the score, it was also less than a fully realised account. If the greatness of the symphony came across clearly, the greatness of the performance never quite did."