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Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Violin Concerto "To the Memory of an Angel" (1935)
Chamber Concerto for Violin, Piano and 13 Wind instruments (1923-1925)
Reiko Watanabe (Violin)
Andrea Luchesini (Piano)
Staatskapelle Dresden/Giuseppe Sinopoli
Rec. Live Sachsische Staatsoper Dresden, Oct. 1995 (Violin Concerto) and Lucaskirche Dresden, Nov. 1996 (Chamber Concerto) DDD
WARNER ELATUS 0927467372 [63.19]


Sometimes is said that Alban Berg is the most accessible of the composers of the Second Viennese School. This is, of course, a generalization; pieces like the almost neo-classical Chamber Concerto show Berg in a more severe and clinical style, closer to fellow Schoenberg student Anton von Webern. On the other hand, if one wants to look for a piece as proof of accessibility, one can’t do better than to pick the Violin Concerto.

Composed in 1935, the concerto is dedicated "To the Memory of an Angel", Manon, recently deceased daughter of Alma Mahler and Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius. It is, indeed a very moving piece in two movements: an Andante/Allegretto, intended to portray several stages of Manon’s life: youthful games, the gain of experience and the development of a human being. The second part, a stormy allegro ending in a mournful adagio is ... well ... the end.

Reiko Watanabe is the soloist. While certainly not displaying the virtuosity Pinchas Zuckerman displays in his recording with Pierre Boulez, Watanabe sounds completely emotionally involved with the work. She has a beautiful tone which together with her expressive playing makes for a very satisfying reading of a work that seems to call for such an approach.

What about Sinopoli? For all the controversy his interpretations stir up, in this case his approach works 100%. A very well paced, through not rushed reading allows the Staatskapelle Dresden to shine. The sound is lush, full and clear, aided by the great job the Teldec engineers did in this live recording.

Berg’s Chamber Concerto for violin, piano and 13 wind instruments from 1925 is a tougher piece for this writer to review. I admit to being a newcomer to the music of the 2nd Viennese school and indeed a very recent convert, at least to the music of Berg and Schoenberg.

That said, Sinopoli makes a great case for this piece to present to people like me. Following an approach similar to the one used in the Violin Concerto, in his hands the hard edges as softened, while the lyrical sections are presented in the beautiful velvet ‘cushion’ the members of the Staatskapelle Dresden provide. Watanabe is, again the soloist and we find her in a more angular mode, with a harder attack and bolder sonorities. Pianist Andrea Luchesini does a great job complementing Watanabe’s playing.

We have then, a great version of the work, in fact ideal as an introduction both to Alban Berg’s and the 2nd Viennese school music. This is not to say that this version can’t stand on its own right as a great performance of a noble work; a recommended recording.

Victor Martell

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