Herbert Kegel (1920-90) is not as celebrated as Mitropolous, Abbado,
Böhm, Boulez or Barenboim – conductors of five of the most generally
discussed recordings of Wozzeck. Nevertheless, this vintage
Berlin Classics comes across as a highly competitive version of
Berg’s disturbing masterpiece, gripping from the very opening
bars. Kegel was a great champion of 20th-century music,
even in the face of strong opposition (see review).
In 1976, according to the biographical notes, he performed Penderecki’s
Threnos while fully aware that the work was about to be
banned. Like many fine conductors who single-mindedly dedicate
much time and energy to contemporary music, he sacrificed his
popular appeal, and his reputation is now perhaps not as high
as it should be.
shows typically fine judgment – intense, but not exaggerated
or overwrought, powerfully emotional without indulgence or sensationalism,
lucid without being analytical. In Theo Adam we have here arguably
the most magnificent Wozzeck on record. This is a wonderfully
musical, human portrayal with which we may all readily identify.
Adam is incapable of singing an ugly note, but this does not
mean he is at all bland or lacking in emotional force. Wozzeck’s
descent into madness does not have to be underlined in red to
be memorably portrayed. As participants in this horrible drama,
both Wozzeck and Marie could easily seem sub-human. However,
Berg’s sympathetic adaptation of Büchner’s play reminds us that
they are indeed flesh and blood, and Theo Adam interprets the
title-role accordingly. Initially – many years ago – I assumed
that Büchner must be a 20th-century playwright, until
I was amazed to discover that he died in 1837.
Equally human is
the Marie of Gisela Schröter, who sings with great expression
and – again the key-word for this performance in general - musicianship.
Also, regarding the actual notes, she makes many other exponents
of this role in rival versions sound rather approximate. I found
myself thinking - such is the accuracy of both Schröter and
Adam – that one could actually write down the vocal line in
all but the most angular passages. In fact there is no weak
member of this cast.
I find this recording
totally involving; a harrowing and genuinely tragic experience
which leaves the listener changed – just as the very greatest
drama should do. Wozzeck is such a rich and complex score
that one cannot fully absorb it all in a single live performance.
This music – like many masterworks from the 2nd Viennese
School – demands to be recorded for close study, and I believe
this particular performance will prove especially durable and
of this highly demanding score is strong on nobility and he
obtains some extremely beautiful playing from the Leipzig Radio
Symphony. One ideal illustration would be the brief postlude
before Scene 3 (track 4).
I find the recorded
sound and balance very natural. The booklet is not over-generous,
including brief biographical sketches of Adam, Kegel and the
orchestra, and a text in German only. The playing time, in common
with many recordings of this opera, is relatively short, but
we should not complain when the performance is so compelling.
Indeed, I see no need to compare this version with others. Its
many outstanding virtues seem enhanced with repetition. Even
if Kegel had recorded nothing else, he would deserve to be permanently
remembered for his Wozzeck. This performance should not