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Berg Wozzeck Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

A 'Wozzeck' to be measured against the very finest modern recordings, a genuine...

Andrew McGregor 2003

Wozzeck in English. What, no 'Jawohl, Herr Hauptmann', no 'der Mond ist blutig', delivered in guttural, baritonal German; aren't we going literally to lose something in translation?

We could, but maybe not; after all Richard Stokes' pungent English version is a veteran of productions at both Welsh and English National Opera which have had devastating impact and received more-or-less universal acclaim. That's also true of the cast assembled for this recording, most of whom will be familiar in these roles from those very productions.

Andrew Shore as Wozzeck is effortlessly communicative, a lyrical Everyman as opposed to the clipped, brutally stentorian baritones you're sometimes offered in the part. As his fragile defences collapse around him, we feel this Wozzeck's pain threshold being exceeded as Marie's infidelity and the vicious taunting of the Drum Major push him over the edge into bloody revenge and accidental suicide. Emphasising Wozzeck's fragility rather than just the brutality of the world in which he lives and the crime he commits, serves to heighten the impact of the murder when it comes.

As Marie, Josephine Barstow might be considered too mature for the role, yet she brings not just her undoubted experience to bear, but also a querulous vulnerability, which makes her scene with the Bible at the beginning of Act 3, looking for comparisons between herself and another fallen woman, Mary Magdalene, particularly poignant.

There are no weak links in this cast, but the outstanding performance comes from the Philharmonia conducted by Paul Daniel, bringing this complex score to life in huge slabs of dramatic colour, made up of individual instrumental pixels which are resolved quite superbly by one of those satisfying Chandos recordings: warm, dark and detailed. Just listen to the Third Act where Wozzeck stabs Marie, and two massive orchestral crescendos segue into the pub-piano of the bar scene: that'll tell you all you need to know about the recording, and a great deal about the quality of Paul Daniel's conducting.

This is one of the finest recordings so far in Chandos's 'Opera in English' series, and there's certainly no need to make allowances for the performance because of the language. A Wozzeck to be measured against the very finest modern recordings, a genuine alternative to any one of them, linguistically and musically.

Like This? Try These:
Britten: The Turn of the Screw (Mahler Chamber Orch/Harding)
Mahler: Des Knaben Wunderhorn (Concertgebouw/Chailly)
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (Kirov Orchestra/Gergiev)

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