Berg, Wozzeck Classical Music Reviews


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Alban Berg, Wozzeck

Carl Johan Falkman Wozzeck Katarina Dalayman Marie Ulrik Qvale Captain Sten Wahlund Doctor Lennert Stregard Drum Major Klas Hedland Andres Marianne Eklöf Margret

Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera, Stockholm Conducted by Leif Segerstam

Recorded in Kungliga Teatern, Stockholm on 12, 15 & 18 February 2000 Naxos 8.660076-77 Two CDs CD 1; 37’22” CD 2; 58’41”

Perhaps the only atonal opera to keep any sort of place in the regular repertoire, Berg’s Wozzeck is a remarkable study of victimisation, despair and eventual madness. Based on the incomplete play by Georg Büchner, Berg manages in this tense drama to unify the structures of the narrative, and create a sense of classical ordering of the scenic development through the controlled imposition of serial devices. In this, the influence of Berg’s great mentor and teacher Schoenberg is apparent, and yet the drama unfolds with a terse sense of development that bears more of the stamp of the romantics than of Schoenberg’s more clinical scientific patterns of growth.

The addition of classical structures to the 15 scenes that Berg contrives out of the original 27 of the play, allows an interplay of drama and narrative, using structures of fixed form in rigorous musical development. Act 1, which illustrates the tragic soldier Wozzeck in relation to his fellow soldier Andres, to the Captain at whose hands he is so ruthlessly degraded, to Marie, the lover he cannot afford to marry and eventually murders, and to the Drum Major, with whom Marie is unfaithful. This act takes the form of a suite, using a prelude, various dance structures, a passacaglia on a 12-note theme and a postlude, which is an inversion of the prelude. Act 2 is a five-movement symphony and serves as a development of the overall structure exposed in the first act. The final act takes the form of 6 inventions, and once again the musical treatment is rigorous, involving an invention on one note (Wozzeck and Marie), an invention on a hexachord (the death of Wozzeck) and an invention on quavers in the final children’s scene.

These structural devices are an essential element of the 12-tone system, and while in many respects they run counter to the nature of dramatic unfolding of operatic narrative, on the other hand they provide a foil to the almost vulgar humanity of the story. Leif Segerstam understands these objectives and directs the forces of the Royal Opera, Stockholm with precision and verve. The orchestral interludes produce some excellent playing from the orchestra, although they can sometimes be a little overpowering for the voices. However, the range of characterisation brought to the role of Wozzeck by the baritone Carl Johan Falkman is impressive throughout this recording, and several of the scenes involving Wozzeck and Marie (the always impressive Katarina Dalayman) produce some excellently impassioned singing. If there is a small complaint about Dalayman it is only that her Wagnerian breadth of voice sometimes obscures the more confused and repentant aspects of the Marie’s character.

The rest of the cast is uniformly (no pun intended!) impressive, Ulrik Qvale’s Captain and Sten Wahlund’s Doctor having just the right mix of cynicism and outright brutality without becoming mere caricatures of the part. Recording quality and presentation are both good and the usual standard of Naxos booklet notes is enhanced by a detailed synopsis by Keith Anderson. The work is undoubtedly a demanding listen, possibly even ‘heavy going’ but such a seminal work of 20th century stage drama deserves the attention that Segerstam and his cast have lavished upon it. For the usual Naxos budget price this double disc is an easily recommendable version of the opera. (Peter Wells)

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